Peculiar Places: Explorations of Gothic Regional Differences

Alicia EdwardsMCRo

Though, since its inception in the eighteenth century, the Gothic, as William Hughes has argued, “has enjoyed an intimacy with the geographically provincial and the culturally peripheral”, this is an aspect of the mode that “academic criticism has to date hardly acknowledged”. This interdisciplinary panel thus combines socio-historical and quantitative research methods to respond to this gap in scholarly discourse, the three papers that comprise it variously comparing London as a Gothic ‘core’ with other ‘peripheries’ across the British Isles.

Maternal or murderous: The North/South Divide in the Practice of Baby Farming (Catherine Elkin)
This paper will present an exploration of the regional differences of baby farming in nineteenth- and early-twentieth century England. A baby farmer was a woman who reared the children of others for payment (either a weekly or lump sum), and most bore this work honestly, providing essential childcare for single mothers. However, a minority turned to criminal ends, neglecting, and even murdering, their charges in the interest of maximising profit. The majority of research on English baby farming, however, primarily focuses on the area of London and the surrounding districts. No scholar, as yet, undertaken a comprehensive study of the metropolis with city of Manchester. This paper will thus address the imbalance and examine this darker cultural history, comparing results with that of London. It will explore these regional differences, shedding light on both a criminal system involving the systematic neglect of infants and a genuine method of fostering and adoption, hoping to separate the two.

‘On the border of a wild heath…’: word-embeddings for peripheral Gothic place settings (Maartje Weenink)

A quick look at the most frequent entities in my dataset of 2500 early Gothic texts, as identified through a Named Entity Tagger, shows that ‘London’ is by far the most frequent entity with 35.317 hits, compare with ‘Paris’ (10.695), and ´Rome´ (5571). Not only is London overrepresented compared to other European cities, but a comparison with 3021 entries for ´Dublin´, 2333 for ´Edinburgh´, and a shocking 29 for ´Cardiff´ might lead one to believe that the other British nations barely feature in this corpus at all. Yet, interestingly, a manual survey of the national place setting for each text ranks Scotland, Wales, and Ireland as the 5th, 6th, and 7th most used countries for early Gothic fictions.

The crucial difference, therefore, seems to be a tendency for the Gothic to characterize non-English settings as remote, wild, and savage receptacles for a barbaric Gothic tale, while more “familiar” novels set in London’s vicinity utilize a completely different vocabulary to sketch their environment. This paper will investigate this propensity using word-embeddings, which are vector representations of a query’s semantic context. The differences in word-embeddings for texts set in London/England versus the other British nations/regional settings will be investigated in order to account for this separation of Gothic British representations of place.

Locating the Invisible ‘Invisible Other’: Cores and Peripheries of Racial and/or Foreign Ghosts in Britain (Alicia Edwards)
Ghosts have become emblematic of regional identity, territorial claims and socio-culture tension within the Gothic mode. Avery F. Gordon succinctly summarises haunting as “an animated state in which a repressed or unresolved social violence is making itself known”. Scholars have documented a number of socio-cultural tensions articulated in Britain-set ghost stories including gender, class, and, more broadly, the typology spaces that suit narratives of haunting. However, issues of race and/or foreign ghosts haunting Britain’s landscape have received less critical attention.

London has notoriously been situated as the epicentre of imperial, cultural and xenophobic anxieties and trauma within the Gothic, yet its ghost stories offer few hauntings to support its ‘cosmopolitan-phobia’. Building on preliminary commentary by ghost tourism scholar Michele Hanks on the absence of racial/cultural others in Britain’s haunted heritage, this paper seeks to undertake a comparative study between London and other urban centres across Britain to interrogate the presence and absence of the racialized and/or foreign ghosts, and to question how this relates to issues of regional memory and trauma and identity.

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