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Telling Ghost Stories in a Post-Revolutionary Age

This module will enable students to rethink international and inter-cultural exchanges in the years of Napoleonic wars and to revise Anglo-centric narratives of the Gothic through a most exemplary case study. By moving between three countries, three linguistic and cultural domains (German, French, and English), and three incarnations of the same book – Gespensterbuch, Fantasmagoriana, and Tales of the Dead – this module will constantly move between textual analysis and a broader theoretical perspective, including – but not limited to – media studies (phantasmagoria and magic lantern shows, paradigms of visuality, optics and technology), cultural history, literary theory, theories of translation, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, history of printed media, and Gothic theory.

The module will complement the methodological and theoretical approaches introduced in the core Pan-Romanticisms module (especially as far as periodization and trans-national perspective are concerned), but is nonetheless open to all postgraduate students across the School and the Faculty of Arts, and particularly to those interested in Gothic theory, translation studies, and media studies.

Outline syllabus

In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. […] But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. […] I have not seen these stories since then; but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday. “We will each write a ghost story”, said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to’.

Thus, in publishing the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley recapitulated the genesis of the novel, crediting it to the singular conjunction of inclement weather, collective reading, and a sort of story-telling parlour game. But what were the ‘volumes of ghost stories’ she mentioned? Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d’histoires d’apparitions, de spectres, de revenans, fantômes, etc. was a two-tome anthology anonymously published in Paris in 1812, and collecting ten stories from different sources. The editor was was Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès, a geographer from Marseille; five tales out of ten had been published just one year before, within the first two volumes of the anthology Gespensterbuch, edited in Leipzig by Johann August Apel and Friedrich August Schulze. Fantasmagoriana also included a tale by Apel, originally appeared in the 1810 volume Cicaden, and a long piece extrapolated from Johann Karl August Musäus’s Volksmärchen der Deutschen, an anthology published between 1782 and 1786. A varied, albeit consistent corpus (all authors came from Eastern Germany, not by chance the cradle of German Romanticism) crossed thus the Rhine, also crossing, immediately afterwards, the Channel: if the Diodati company would read the French text, as early as in 1813 the thirty-two year old Sarah Elizabeth Brown Utterson, the wife of the antiquarian and collector Edward Vernon Utterson, translated a huge part of Eyriès’s anthology, entitling it Tales of the Dead and publishing it with the Londoner bookseller White, Cochrane and Co.

By taking this ‘travelling text’ (van Woudenberg) as a challenging case study, this module aims to explore the intersections between literature, imagination, and belief in Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic Europe, and more precisely between 1799 (the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire, symbolically marking the beginning of a post-revolutionary age) and the 1820s, when – thanks to Frankenstein and Polidori’s The Vampyre, but also to E.T.A. Hoffmann and French writers such as Charles Nodier – literature of the supernatural undertakes, in Europe, a deep metamorphosis, giving birth to the genres, widely familiar to contemporary readers, respectively known as science and horror fiction.

wk1: The night of Villa Diodati

wk2: Apel’s and Schulze’s Gespensterbuch, Schiller’s Der Geisterseher, and the German Gothic

wk3: Eyriès’s Fantasmagoriana, phantasmagoria shows, and the French literary market of 1812

wk4: Fantasmagoriana and its epigones: Cuisin’s Spectriana (1817), Paban’s Demoniana (1820), and Nodier’s Infernaliana (1822)

wk5: Apel’s Die Bilder der Ahnen/Les Portraits de famille: negotiating family relations after the dissolution of the German Empire

wk 6: Reading week

wk7: Schulze’s Die Todtenbraut/La Morte fiancée: vampirism and intertexuality; the literary type of the morte amoureuse from Phlegon of Thralles to Goethe, Gautier, and Dumas.

wk8: Schulze’s Der Todteknopf/La Tête de mort: illusion and the Freudian uncanny.

wk9: Beyond the uncanny: how can Fantasmagoriana help us in rethinking Gothic theory?

wk10: Conclusion. The legacy of Fantasmagoriana: Frankenstein and The Vampyre, the myth of the Diodati night in the twentieth century (Straub’s Ghost Story; Carrère’s Bravoure; Palahniuk’s Haunted).

Illustrative bibliography

Most of primary sources are available on Google Books or

Berthin, Christine, Gothic Hauntings. Melancholy Crypts and Textual Ghosts (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillamn, 2010)

Buse, Peter and Andrew Stott (eds.), Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999)

Byron, ‘A Fragment’, in Mazeppa. A Poem (London: John Murray, 1819), pp. 59-69

Castle, Terry, The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)

---, ‘Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie’, Critical Inquiry, 15, 1 (Autumn 1988), 26-61

Chartier, Roger, Les Origines culturelles de la Révolution française (Paris: Seuil, 1990).

Clery, E.J., The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1995)

Clubbe, John, ‘The Tempest-toss’d Summer of 1816: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, The Byron Journal, 19 (1991), 26-40

Cusack, Andrew and Barry Murnane (eds.), Popular Revenants. The German Gothic and Its International Reception, 1800-2000 (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012)

Douthwaite, Julia V., The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012)

Elbert, Monika and Bridget M. Marshall (eds.), Transnational Gothic. Literary and Social Exchanges in the Long Nineteenth Century (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013)

Ellenberger, Henri F., The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1981)

Foucault, Michel, History of Madness, ed. by Jean Khalfa, transl. by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa (London & New York: Routledge, 2006)

Geary, Robert F., The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction. Horror, Belief, and Literary Change (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), pp. 124-25.

Hall, Daniel, French and German Gothic Fiction in the Late Eighteenth Century (Bern: Peter Lang, 2005).

Hay, Simon, A History of the Modern British Ghost Story (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

Hogle, Jerrold E. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Horner, Avril (ed.), European Gothic. A Spirited Exchange 1760-1960 (Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2002)

Horner, Avril and Sue Zlosnik (eds.), Le Gothic. Influences and Appropriations in Europe and America (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Jenson, Deborah, Trauma and Its Representations. The Social Life of Mimesis in Post-Revolutionary France (Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)

Jones, David J., Gothic Machine: Textualities, Pre-Cinematic Media and Film in Popular Visual Culture, 1670-1910 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011)

---, Sexuality and the Gothic Magic Lantern. Desire, Eroticism and Literary Visibilities from Byron to Bram Stoker (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

Kessler, Joan C. (ed.) Demons of the Night: Tales of the Fantastic, Madness, and the Supernatural from Nineteenth-Century France (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995)

Mannoni, Laurent, The Great Art of Light and Shadow: Archaeology of the Cinema, ed. & transl. by Richard Crangle (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000)

Mannoni, Laurent, Donata Pesenti Campagnoni, and David Robinson (eds.), Light and Movement: Incunabula of the Motion Picture 1420-1896/Luce e movimento: incunaboli dell’immagine animate 1420-1896/Lumière et mouvement: incunables de l’image animée 1420-1896 (Gemona: Le Giornate del cinema muto, 1995)

Masschelein, Anneleen, The Unconcept. The Freudian Uncanny in Late-Twentieth-Century Theory (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011)

[Polidori, John W.], The Diary of John William Polidori 1816 Relating to Byron, Shelley, etc., ed. byWilliam Michael Rossetti (London: Elkin Mathews, 1911)

---, ‘The Vampyre. A Tale by Lord Byron’, The New Monthly Magazine, XI, 63 (1 April 1819), 195-206

Rieger, James, ‘Dr. Polidori and the Genesis of Frankenstein’, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 3 (Winter 1963), 461-72

Robertson, E.G., Mémoires récréatifs, scientifiques et anecdotiques du physicien-aéronaute E.G. Robertson, 2 t. (Paris: Wurtz, 1831)

Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein. The 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism, ed. by J. Paul Hunter (New York & London: Norton, 2012)

---, with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. The Original Two-Volume Novel of 1816-1817 from the Bodleian Library Manuscripts, ed by Charles E. Robinson (Oxford: The Bodleian Library, 2008)

Stiffler, Muriel W., The German Ghost Story as Genre (New York: Peter Lang, 1993)

Tatar, Maria M., Spellbound. Studies on Mesmerism and Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)

Van Woudenberg, Maximiliaan, ‘The Variants and Transformations of Fantasmagoriana: Tracing a Travelling Text to the Byron-Shelley Circle’, Romanticism, 20, 3 (2014), 306-320

Warner, Marina, Phantasmagoria. Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006)

Watt, James, Contesting the Gothic. Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Wright, Angela, Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820. The Import of Terror (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)