On my first post I received a warning from Abigail Oakley about the bumpy ride that is a Master’s degree. No sooner had she advised the imminent obliteration of my blogging schedule (which was fast and loose to start with, but not this loose) than I received a strict deadline and a mountain of work.
My supervisor, who by now perhaps knows that my best results are achieved in the pressure cooker, gave me two weeks to settle on primary text before starting my first draft proposal. I diligently set to work reading the texts she recommended – all over 600 pages – and ferreted around for possibilities.
At the end of these two weeks, I was caught between two possible directions. To refresh your memory, I wanted to investigate the workings of history in contemporary Gothic historical fiction (I’m still working on a snappier nomenclature). However, I was really struggling to find primary texts. In search of these elusive creatures, I read
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
- The Observations by Jane Harris
- Affinity by Sarah Waters
- Rustication by Charles Palliser
- Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Once I had gotten through some brainstorming and genre overviews, The Little Stranger appeared to be exactly what I was looking for. It is set in 1947 – thus appropriately historical – and featured some actual (or arguably actual) supernatural happenings. Moreover, it can probably be safely argued that anything Sarah Waters writes can be classified as historiographic metafiction. Thus, I had a historically set, overtly Gothic, self-aware piece of robust metafiction, with an unreliable first person narrator to boot.
However, none of the others seemed to fit. Either they were too shallow, too short or not supernatural or Gothic enough. My supervisor then recommended that I read Hilary Mantel’s two Booker Prize winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. I think I fell in love. The only problem was that these were not Gothic novels. Sure, they had some Gothic elements, but they were out and out historical fiction.
For two more weeks I agonized about the choice I had to make. I assumed various tormented Thinking Man poses, and drove my boyfriend half mad moaning about the difficulty of life. If I wanted to go with Mantel’s novels (which, while reading, I really really wanted to do), I had to completely start from scratch on a project involving Historiographic Metafiction. If not, I was still one primary text short of a project on Neo-Gothic fiction. I started scrounging around Mantel’s other novels – The Giant, O-Brien and Fludd – because they seemed vaguely more Gothic, but still no dice.
Eventually, I came to the decision to put Mantel on the back burner. I still really wanted to delve into Gothic fiction, and the more research I started doing once I finally made up my mind, the more excited I became about the project. I decided to settle for Kostova’s The Historian. It was the most Gothic by far, contained the supernatural and (as the name might hint) featured historical and historiographic elements very strongly. The characters weren’t quite juicy enough for my taste (they were either blandly nice or labelled evil rather perfunctorily), but there are enough features to tease out and evaluate. Thus, the winners for my study on historical elements in Neo-Gothic fiction are:
My next big hurdle is The Proposal. I capitalise this because it is that scary.