Our first CRECS event will celebrate Halloween week in spooktacular style. We’ll be kicking the 2015/16 programme off with an exploration of the nineteenth-century gothic literature and music. The Romantic period saw the emergence of the first wave of gothic writing, a turning away form the austere and ordered neoclassicism of the Augustan age. In Britain, there was a new appetite for native forms of art that eschewed system and structure, instead celebrating the ambiguities and uncertainties of the more irrational and imaginative aspects of human experience. This was the age that generated many iconic representations of the supernatural and fantastical, among them Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his Creature; the emergence of turbulent ‘Byronic’ heroes such as Manfred and the Giaour; and Keats’s ‘Eve of St Agnes’.
Gothic and the supernatural provided inspiration for more than simply literature, acting as a transgeneric form that ranged across art, architecture, literature and music, forms which often spoke to and influenced each other in complex and interesting ways. Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781), which is our featured image, was one of the most popular and reproduced paintings of the period, capturing and inspiring gothic currents in literature. Music such as Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830) drew upon artistic experiences of drug addiction in order to present a kaleidoscopic fantasy that dizzied listeners with its vertiginous and exotic orchestrations. The work of Sir Walter Scott, the best-selling novelist of the 19th century, provided inspiration for both musicians and artists alike, not least Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), which drew upon the gothic elements of Scott’s historical novel, The Bride of Lammermoor (1819).
On the evening of the 26th of October, three members of the CRECS team will invite participants to explore and enjoy a feast of visual, textual and musical terrors in Halloween week.
- Keith Chapin, of Cardiff’s Music School, will introduce us to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1808), which ETA Hoffmann, one of German Romanticism’s most popular fiction writers, saw as the ultimate sublime and gothic composition: ‘We become aware of giant shadows swaying back and forth, moving ever closer around us and destroying within us all feeling but the pain of infinite yearning’.
- Our second speaker, Anthony Mandal will turn to ETA Hoffmann itself, who enjoyed a multifaceted career as both a jurist and a man of letters. One of Hoffmann’s most enduring creations was ‘Der Sandmann’ (The Sandman), the first of a collection of stories he published in the collection Die Nachtstücke (The night pieces, 1817). Hoffmann’s ghastly tale of childhood terror and adult madness features a panoply of gothic weirdness, not least the automaton Olimpia, with whom the story’s protagonist Nathanael falls in love.
- Finally, Emily Blewitt will draw upon her recently submitted PhD thesis to discuss the role played by maternity in the monstrous creative energies of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Shelley’s novel plays upon the traumatic cycle of creation, reproduction and death in order to craft a truly monumental and immortal image of supernatural tragedy, which leads us to question the definitions of ‘monstrosity’ during the Romantic period.
- The second part of the evening will build on these presentations with general discussion among participants, who are invited to offer their own thoughts on the role and influence of the gothic arts on Romantic culture.
So, join us for a lively evening of conversation and consideration in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR), in the basement of the Arts and Social Studies Library. The event starts at 5.15pm on 26 October 2015. As usual, refreshments will follow after the presentations and discussion.