Monograph Publication Update

Greeting Goths!

This is just a quick update to let you know that the completed manuscript of “Servants and the Gothic” has been approved by University of Wales Press and is currently undergoing the final editing stage in preparation for publication.

Stay tuned for more publication details as they arise!



Oral Servant Narratives

Servants have often operated in the early Gothic mode as a living, breathing equivalent of ‘found manuscripts’, as storytellers with a unique connection to the past, to liminal spaces, and to unique dialectic patterns. Like the written works discovered within the larger Gothic text, servants provide important narratives, albeit subjective and incomplete ones, which shape the Gothic heroine’s perception of reality and identity.

However, there are notable differences between oral servant narratives and written ‘found manuscripts’ in Gothic fiction. In order to better understand the distinction, it is worth breaking down the different kinds of servant narratives which occur in the early Gothic mode and identifying the goals of each. In this instance I am using the servant character Annette from Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) as an example.

1.) Gossip
–  A conversational exchange of information. Information included is often subjective or incomplete, is devalued by the socially- dominant body,  and frequently in turn allows for “intimate revelation and commentary” according to Patricia Meyer Spacks’ work Gossip (Spacks, 3).

Example: Annette to Emily (The Mysteries of Udolpho) : “There I saw the Count’s carriage, and the Count in it, waiting at the great door […] When he door was opened, the Count said something, that I could not make out, and then got out, and another gentleman with him […] and Ludovico held up his finger, and laid it on his lips, as much to say – There is more going on, than you think of, Annette, but you must hold your tongue. And so I did hold my tongue, ma’amselle, and came away to tell you directly.” (Radcliffe, 257)

*What’s happening here: Annette is repeating things she has seen and heard around the castle to Emily, the Gothic heroine. While Emily is initially skeptical, this information is an important tool when piecing together what is happening within Udolpho castle.

2.) Ghost stories
– Told in a specific setting and calling attention to the intervention of the surrounding material world, such as flickering candles or noises. Some stories directly address places, people, past events relevant to the plot, while others are general moral or psychological studies which often still reflect the work’s themes.

Example: Annette’s tale of Lady Laurentini:”‘They searched all night long, but could not find her, or any trace of her; and, from that day to this, ma’amselle she has never been heard of […] But they do say,’ she added, lowering her voice, ‘they do say, that the  Signora has been seen, several times since, walking in the woods and about the castle at night […]'”  (Radcliffe, 239)

*What’s happening here: Annette is telling the Gothic heroine a ghost story about the previous lady of Udolpho castle. Although nobody is certain what happened to Lady Laurentini, Annette effectively transforms her into a literal and narrative ‘spectre’. The results are twofold – 1.) Annette’s story frightens Emily and the external reader and 2.) Annette’s story introduces an important plot point which eventually shapes Emily’s own position as a woman in a patriarchal space. This is especially important when Emily is tasked with…

3.) ‘Reconstructing Reality’
– The servant imposes an alternative interpretation or viewpoint on a situation – these instances can overlap with ‘ghost stories’ and with ‘gossip’
– This destabilizes individual and political identities by allowing characters to express and negotiate a liminal viewpoint, and one which often reflects a variation of the authors moral or political sensibilities

Example: “‘Nay, ma’amselle, you know the worst already.’ ‘I know nothing,’ said Emily.  ‘Yes, you do, ma’amselle; you know, that nobody knows any thing about her; and it is plain, therefore, she is gone, the way of the first lady of the castle – nobody ever knew any thing about her.’” (Radcliffe, 333)

*What’s happening here: Annette uses Laurentini tale to contextualize Emily’s aunt’s disappearance later in the text – when Countess Montoni disappears, Annette redefines the role of women within the castle and articulates the anxieties which Emily herself feels about her own place therein. This tale enables Emily to better navigate reality and redefines both Emily and the patriarchal institutions which oppress her in more set terms.

The servant narrator’s role as an authorial metonym is complicated by the distinction between oral and written narratives. ‘Found manuscripts’ and written histories render the ‘story’ an ‘object’ and suggest participation in the wider print culture. First-person manuscripts, the scarred or incomplete written works which the Gothic characters discover and read (such as Ludovico’s ‘Provencal Tales’ in Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, the framing narrative of Clara Reeve’s Old English Baron, or Adeline’s manuscript in Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest), are often produced by a noble captive or some similarly learned persona. Despite the acknowledgement that such texts are by nature subjective or limited in scope (either because of the incompleteness of the text or because the authors themselves were writing during a ‘dark’ age), they still constitute contributions by learned men. They thus have a value which the oral, gossip-based, narratives of uneducated women do not necessarily have.

Servant narratives are by necessity oral, personal conversations which by their very nature suggest the subjective and the transitory. It is factors such as these that make servant narratives so subversively relevant even as they ostensibly devalue them. They employ traditionally marginalized forms such as gossip and ‘fireside’ tales to present information, but this information itself often has a profound impact on how characters perceive reality and their own roles within upended domestic spaces. That servant narratives, despite being the relics of a class and gender-specific oral tradition, still have the power to destabilize everything is an intensely problematic proposition, yet it is one which confronts the nature of Gothic narrative in consistently innovative ways.


Works cited

Spacks, Patricia Meyer, Gossip (New York: Alfred A. Knoff, Inc., 1985)

Radcliffe, Ann, The Mysteries of Udolpho, edited by Bonamy Dobrée (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Sheffield Gothic: #BuffySlays20

Hello Goths!

This is a friendly reminder for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fans of all shapes and sizes that Sheffield Gothic is currently running their #BuffySlays20 blog series, available at I’ve contributed two blogs to the series, and both are now up and ready for reading and comments!

The first blog entry examines Buffy as a character and her negotiation of a literary and cultural tradition of ‘heroine’ identity, and in particular with heroine ‘victimhood’. The blog is available here for your viewing pleasure:

buffy 1

The latest blog entry is a comparative study of depictions of school violence in the Columbine era episodes of Buffy (Season Three) and in the horror series American Horror Story, which was released ten years later. Both series reflect an evolving perception of national trauma and school violence, while at the same time acknowledging the lingering anxieties surrounding attempts to interpret and impose meaning onto such events. The blog is available here:

As always, follow @gothicservants, @kathleenh42 and @SheffieldGothic on Twitter, and please let us know your thoughts on the blogs using the #BuffySlays20 hashtag.

Announcement: Sheffield Gothic guest blog

Hello Goths!

As some of you may have seen, Sheffield Gothic has launched a “Buffy Slays 20” blog series for August/September 2017, which features blog posts from guest contributors from a range of academic backgrounds. There will be two posts from yours truly, and the first of these has just been released today! You can check it out here:

Happy Buffy Day!

In this blog, I discuss how Buffy as a character responds to and reshapes the ‘heroine’ tropes which were initially developed in early Gothic literature and which have come to define significant Gothic engagements. In particular, I focus on the Season One finale and explore how the show consciously uses the signifiers of heroine identity (and victimhood), and then progresses beyond them in order to highlight Buffy’s placement within larger generic negotiations.

Please follow @SheffieldGothic  and @gothicservants on twitter for updates on future Buffy blogs and the latest in Gothic studies.

Announcement: Guest Blogging

Hello goths and ghouls! This is just a heads up throughout August and September Sheffield Gothic will be running a blog series on Joss Whedon’s TV classic Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I will be guest blogging twice in this series, so stayed tuned for further updates here and be sure to check out for posts.

To stay up to date with all the latest in Gothic literature, movies, media, art, projects, and events, be sure to follow Sheffield Gothic on twitter at @SheffieldGothic, and follow the ‘Servants and the Gothic’ Project at @gothicservants

Gothic servant narratives and literary tradition, Part Two (IGA 2017 Conference)

Greetings Goths! The “Servants and the Gothic” project recently had an opportunity to present research at Universidad de las Américas Puebla  at the International Gothic Association Conference. The following post is Part Two of selections from my conference paper “‘Either heare my tale or kisse my tail’: Gothic servant narratives and literary tradition”, presented at the biannual International Gothic Association Conference in Mexico (2017). 

Servant narrative in the early Gothic mode developed from a number of literary sources and traditions, but one major source was the early modern period’s engagement with the concept of oral storytelling and the figure of the ‘old wife’ storyteller. By adopting this persona and the style of narrative which this figure typically used, Gothic servants were able to articulate a form of Gothicized narrative which bespoke a particular historical identity even as it transcended mainstream literary culture.

George Peele’s 1595 play, The Old Wives Tale is perhaps one of the earliest instances where the phrase ‘old wives tale’ is used, and is moreover one of the first works to satirize popular romance. In this work, a blacksmith and his wife Madge, the old wife of the title, give shelter to three young men. Madge begins to tell the young men a story in order to entertain them, though the men initially make disparaging remarks regarding her storytelling abilities:

Madge: Once upon a time there was a King or a Lord, or a Duke that had   a faire daughter, the fairest that ever was; as white as snowe, and as red as bloud: and once upon a time his   daughter was stolen away, and he sent all his men to seeke out his daughter, and he sent so long, that he sent all his men   out of his Land.

Frolic: Who drest his dinner then?

Madge: Nay either heare my tale, or kisse my taile.

Frol: Well sed, on with your tale Gammer.

Madge: O Lord I quite forgot, there was a Conjurer could doo any thing, and he tunned himself into a great Dragon, and carried the Kinges Daughter away in his mouth to a Castle he made of   stone […][1]

The men attempt to devalue Madge’s storytelling abilities while making assumptions about her class and gender – she is not a member of an educated elite and her tale is ‘outside’ of mainstream literary culture. Perhaps no one is more surprised than Madge, then, when the characters in her tale come to life and begin acting out a play within the larger frame narrative, a jumble of fantasy, romance, and comedic elements. Madge’s story quickly spirals out of control and takes on a life of it’s own, essentially becoming a play-within-a-play, and one which threatens in turn to undermine the identities of both narrator and audience.

We can see parallels between the structure and content of Madge’s narrative and what would later become ‘servant narrative’ in the Gothic. Madge and many Gothic servant narrators assume a certain system of belief and employ discursive practices which critics have identified as central to the Gothic – repetition, exaggeration, and excess – hyperbolic details which connect the story to ‘otherworldly’ or ‘romance’ tradition. There is a conscious engagement on the part of the authorial metonymic character with boundaries of so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural expression. We also see the servant narrator’s insistence on speaking even when their social superiors attempt to silence them, and their willingness to engage with an audience despite lacking, ostensibly, both a social and literary authority. This play also uses an innovative device widely believed to have been first used by Thomas Kyd is in  “The Spanish Tragedy” (1587), the “play-within-a-play” in which a second, embedded narrative is performed, essentially reincorporating the ‘Greek chorus’ and redirecting the audience and narrator’s attention to a more obviously meta-textual sub-plot. Of course, this device was also used frequently in Shakespeare, and the in-set ghost stories within early Gothic texts, as we shall see, similarly carry critical potential.

Peele was one of the first known authors to engage with and satirize a lower-class and gender-specific oral tradition. Shakespeare also frequently incorporated liminal narratives, and especially narratives prone to otherworldly explanations, in his texts – in the aptly titled The Winter’s Tale the doomed Mamillius tells his mother that: “A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one / Of sprites and goblins.”[2] The gravedigger’s dialogue in Hamlet was famously controversial for eighteenth century critics who felt that such low-class interjections ruined the dignity of the piece, while Emilia’s refusal to stop speaking explodes misreadings in the final moments of Othello.

With these literary sources in mind we can reconsider Gothic servant narratives, such as those which take place between heroine Emily St Aubert and her maid Annette in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Annette is a servant who loves gossip, and when her mistress attempts to interrupt her, she frequently insists, as Madge does, that she be allowed to use her own storytelling methods. She is also semi-conscious of her narrative’s role as a form of fantasy entertainment. During their first night isolated in Udolpho castle, and after an unpleasant meeting between Emily and Montoni, Annette cheerfully creates a scene in which the terrors of the castle are put into an idealised supernatural context: “I can almost believe in giants again, and such like, for this is just like one of their castles; and, some night or other, I suppose I shall see fairies too, hopping about in that great old hall.”[3] Radcliffe famously eschewed supernatural machinery in her ‘explained’ Gothic texts, yet this statement constructs an aesthetic of the ‘fantastic’ as Annette envisions the supernatural and transposes a fantasy world on to reality.

The consequences of such an engagement here and in Peele’s work are profound, both in a political and literary sense. Samuel Johnson delivered an equivocal look at ‘romance’ in his criticism of Shakespeare, arguing that in ‘Gothic’ times “plebeian learning was laid out upon adventures, giants, dragons and enchantments.”[4] Though representative of ‘plebeian’ and ‘gothic’ style, Emily engages with the imaginative servant narrative with pleasure, “glad to escape more serious thought” and suggesting that in fact “we shall certainly see it illuminated with a thousand lamps, and the fairies tripping in gay circles to the sound of delicious music.’”[5] Emily-as-reader both enjoys servant narrative and expands on Annette’s vision. This narrative expresses Annette’s creative potential as well as suggesting Joseph Addison’s study of Imagination in 1712 and his argument that “we have the power of retaining, altering, and compounding” images of ‘fancy’ and that “by this faculty a man in a dungeon is capable of entertaining himself.”[6] The servant narrative’s adoption of a ‘gothic’ oral tradition resists resistance to patriarchal oppression and gives value to a gender and class-specific literary form, and one which is suggestively distinct from written contributions of contemporary print culture. The folkloric belief in giants and fairies which belong to Akenside’s “village-matron” allows the heroine to indulge her sensibility and to use it as a distraction from the persecutions of the patriarchal authority. Moreover, unlike those moments of terror which isolate Emily, this kind of storytelling unites Emily and Annette in an alliance of thinking and feeling minds.

As with Madge’s story, too, this narrative’s personal and literary power lays precisely in its transitory nature, in its role as entertainment. Echoing Madge’s easy dismissal of her own tale in favor of breakfast at the end of Peele’s play, and Puck’s “If we shadows have offended” speech in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Emily suggests the ephemeral nature of the exchange and tells Annette that “if once they (the fairies) hear your voice, the whole scene will vanish in an instant.”[7] This self-aware statement hints at the power of personal imagination and narrative to not only create an aesthetic space, as Annette does with her fairies, but also to make a vision, be it positive or negative, “vanish” using an individual “voice.” This parallels more general Gothic reading practices – reading creates visions and within that experience coded systems of identity are explored. Such visions are then dispelled by a personal application of reason, despite of (or in conjunction with) the ‘lowness’ of the form and the ‘fantastic’ and Gothic genre’s recourse to metaphor.


Stay tuned for more excerpts from“‘Either heare my tale or kisse my tail’: Gothic servant narratives and literary tradition” on this blog, and be sure to follow @gothicservants on twitter.


[1] Peele, George, The Old Wives Tale, 1595

[2] Shakespeare, William, The Winter’s Tale, Act 2, scene 1, line, 629-630

[3] Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, edited by Bonamy Dobrée (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 231

[4] Johnson, “Preface to Shakespeare,” 1765

[5] Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, p. 231

[6] Addison, Joseph, “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” The Spectator, no. 411-21 (1712), p. 139

[7] Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, p. 231



Gothic servant narratives and literary tradition, Part One (IGA 2017 Conference Paper)

Greetings Goths! The “Servants and the Gothic” project recently went on an amazing outing to Mexico for the International Gothic Association Conference, where I presented research on the origins and traditions which impacted the development of servant narrative in the early Gothic novel. The following posts will be made up of selected parts of my conference paper “‘Either heare my tale or kisse my tail’: Gothic servant narratives and literary tradition”, presented at the biannual International Gothic Association Conference in Puebla (2017), starting with a short introduction to the topic below. Enjoy! 


Servant characters in early Gothic literature fulfill a crucial role as in-text storytellers whose narratives often reflect larger political and literary goals and illuminate the mechanics of the Gothic mode. In acting as metonym authors, oral storytellers, and theatrical performers within specific novels, Gothic servants assumed an ambiguous position between their ostensible source material, the ‘ancient romances’ of the early modern period and earlier, and their newer post-Enlightenment innovations. Most specifically, the use of servant narrators as representatives of a literary tradition of romance and oral tales of the fantastic suggest a reevaluation of these older forms as part of an attempt to define what Horace Walpole identified as a “new species of romance”.

Regina Maria Roche suggests this link in her 1798 novel Clermont when, in the middle of an exchange of ghost stories between two female servants and their increasingly frightened mistress, Roche invokes Mark Akenside’s poem “The Pleasures of the Imagination” (1744): Akenside describes “The village-matron, round the blazing hearth,” who “Suspends the infant audience with her tales.”[1] These tales are classic Gothic narratives and “witching rhymes”, and reflect an ‘ancient’ literary tradition as well as new patterns of expression in the emerging novel form.[2]

Agatha and Floretta, the servants in Roche’s work, gather around a fire in a creepy castle on a dark and stormy night, and as the wind and storm surround them they make toast and tell each other ghost stories, frightening and entertaining tales which suggest the larger themes of the novel and an engagement with ‘romance’ more broadly. The two servant characters, who have also become authorial metonyms in this instance, embody a proto-Gothic tradition in their adoption of the “village-matron” persona – and what’s more, this persona is itself a recognizable trope which is still performed to this day in oral Gothic storytelling.

Servants are ‘othered’ individuals capable of relatively free movement through and between liminal spaces, privy to domestic spaces and secrets and, to the great consternation of their employers, perfectly capable and willing to share their own narratives and those of their masters. They were also closely linked in popular thought in the Eighteenth Century with ‘ghost stories’, to the point where John Locke warned parents in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) against subjecting children those “Impressions of Goblins, Spectres, and Apparitions, wherewith their maids and those about them are apt to frighten them […] subjecting their Minds to Frights, fearful Apprehensions, Weakness and Superstition.”[3]

With this context, Gothic servant narrators reflect and complicate Angela Esterhammer’s conception, in her examination of speech-acts and performativity, of “the speaker’s identity as shaped and determined, indeed performed by, his or her utterance, rather than regarding the utterance and its effect on the world as determined by the status of the speaker.”[4] In effect servants are made Gothic narrators by their performance of specific stories, but this transformation would be initially impossible if a pervasive social construct did not consistently connect servants with oral tales of terror. They are historical artifacts, representatives of a medieval social hierarchy which immediately aligns them with a Gothicized identity, and independent representatives of a contemporary concept of class (and often gender) identity. Therein they are linked to a form of storytelling which transcends literary and historical boundaries even as it points to a very specific style and goal.

Oral storytelling by and through the ‘old wife’ narrative persona is a space for critical engagement and emerges as such during early modern examinations of early romantic prose works. The ‘old wife’ herself is typically identified through class and gender signifiers, paralleling similar assumptions made regarding servant narrators.  Thus figures such as Madge from George Peele’s Old Wives Tale (1595), Emilia from Shakespeare’s Othello, and Dorothee and Annette from Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), share a common heritage, perform similar narrative idioms, and destabilize narrative boundaries and identity in the same ways.


Stay tuned for more excerpts from“‘Either heare my tale or kisse my tail’: Gothic servant narratives and literary tradition” on this blog, and be sure to follow @gothicservants on twitter.


[1] Akenside, Mark, The pleasures of the imagination: A poem in three books, (London: 1744); quoted in Roche, Regina Maria, Clermont, edited by Natalie Schroeder, (Chicago: Valancourt Books, 2006), p. 18

[2] Akenside, p. 31

[3] Locke, John, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (London: A. and J. Churchill, 1693),  “On Grammar”, Part II, Section 191, p. 227

[4] Esterhammer, Angela, “Performative Language and Speech-act Theory,” A Companion to Romanticism, edited by Duncan Wu (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1998), p. 454