One of the most interesting and exciting parts of being a grad student at Lehigh are the groups that convene outside of the classroom. The Gothic Reading Group exists to explore the strange, the macabre, the sublime, and the horrific. This year the group has jumped into multiple examples of Gothic materials and come out the other side frightened and paranoid. To sum the work of another year of the group, we asked two new members to describe their experience. Shelby Carr and Ethan Robles are both current scholars in the Gothic and horror genres and are two of the newest members.
What drew you to Gothic Reading Group?
Shelby: I was drawn to Gothic Reading Group because of my own academic interests, which are Gothic literature and 19th century American literature. I knew that many of my classes wouldn’t be based around these genres, so I was also looking for a place to read the literature that I get jazzed about. It felt like a positive thing to be able to read and discuss this literature with other grad students who also enjoy it.
Ethan: If I’m honest with you, I have no idea what drew me to this group. I’ve always been interested in horror novels and films. I never really thought of the genre as something that can be studied in a scholarly manner, but the leaders of the reading group gave me some information and my Politics of Horror Film class really helped push me toward the group.
What did you learn?
Shelby: Personally, I learned a lot more about the hallmarks of the genre aside from the oft cited “spookiness” factor, and I have been able to apply that knowledge to a lot of the other works I am reading in my spare time! Now, when I am reading a piece of Gothic lit, I am attuned to the ways the family is broken down and reconstituted, the ways the main edifice in the piece functions, etc. I always felt like I could identify Gothic literature, but not necessarily articulate the elements that tipped me off—and now I feel like I can!
Ethan: The Gothic is everywhere. We covered a variety of texts this year and the eclectic selection allowed us to explore the idea of the Gothic far past 18th and 19th century literature. The biggest take away is that you can find the influence of gothic everywhere.
What was your favorite text? And why?
Shelby: I really enjoyed the selected pieces from Ambrose Bierce that we read at our first meeting last semester. As someone that focuses heavily on Poe, it was nice to read someone else who was engaging with the genre in the 19th century and giving it his own spin. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was also a lot of fun!
Ethan: It’s a toss up. I really enjoyed everything that we read this year. I think I’ve got to go with seeing A Quiet Place with the group. It’s a scary film, but it is also being recognized as one of the most innovative horror films in years. I think it exemplifies how alive and culturally relevant the genre of Gothic and horror remain.
What is the relevancy of the Gothic Reading Group? Why does it matter now?
Shelby: Relevancy for me is hard to tackle outside of the fact that the Gothic is very much alive and evolving, in both film and literature. Historically, this genre has dealt with race and gender in very problematic ways (to put it lightly), and I think in a Literature & Social Justice department, studying this problematic past can be useful for thinking through what we want to learn from this genre, what we hope to change in this genre, and how we want to engage critically with this content. Lastly, Gothic Reading Group provides a space of mutual enjoyment between colleagues, and I think that is important (and relevant).
Ethan: I think my scholarly interest is always concerned with the motivations present in fear. What does fear say about us? What does it drive us to do? What creates fear and why? We live in a culture that supports the idea of being afraid. Fear the other, the immigrant, the culturally and religiously different. Studying the horrific allows us to see beyond fear, to break down what makes us afraid and to see why we fear.
What would you like to explore next year in Gothic Reading Group?
Shelby: I want to read more women and people of color that are working (or have worked) within both the Gothic and horror genres. I have lots of ideas: Silvina Ocampo, Helen Oyeyemi, Linda Addison, Tananarive Due, etc. I’m eager to read outside the canon.
Ethan: I love the mixture of different media that we’ve worked with this year. I’m excited to see how the group continues to explore the vast landscape of the horrific, whether that is a story, poem, book, or film.