Researching Early Gothic Servant Narrative

Kathleen Hudson: Early Gothic Servant Narrative in the UoS School of English

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I’m Kathleen Hudson, a third year PhD student and a proud member of the University’s unofficial Gothic gang. My area of postgraduate research is on servant narratives in early Gothic novels. Now, anyone who has read an early Gothic text will know all about servant characters – they’re the ones whose dialogues and stories are so confused, emotional, and take so long to read! They’re the critically unloved creatures of a subgenre that at least superficially seems increasingly out-dated to an audience asking “aren’t we done with eighteenth-century Gothic yet?” And yet, careful explorations of their narrative capacities prove that Gothic servants still have much to show us about the evolution of the genre.

My research focuses on the works of early Gothic authors such as Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and Matthew Lewis, among others. I examine their works for examples of servant verbal and non-verbal narrative and what I’ve found so far has given me a lot of insight into how these authors constructed Gothic narrative, and by extension aesthetic and identity, through the humorous, superstitious, plucky, wily servant characters. Characters such as Bianca in The Castle of Otranto, Annette and Ludovico in The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Theodore in The Monk all use forms of meta-Gothic narrative to construct a gothic reality and influence the development and liminal explorations of those around them. They even, in some cases, become surrogate Gothic authors within the text, reflecting back larger understandings about the development of this literary genre.

The Gothic as a literary genre has had a boost in popularity over the last few years, and it’s exciting to be working on an area research that’s both important and relatively unexplored. Even more exciting, the University recently developed the Gothic Studies Centre here at Sheffield, so people interested in Gothic studies should check out what’s new in the department – we probably won’t turn you into a vampire right away!

 

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