Dark Ingredients: Talk on Gothic Literature at Aberdeen for the May Festival

Aberdeen University Library is unusually rich in Gothic literature, from classics by Clara Reeve and Mary Shelley to M. R. James’s celebrated and perennially-popular ghost stories. Keith O’Sullivan’s illustrated lecture will examine how this came to be so, alongside consideration as to what ‘Gothic’ actually means, before discussing one of the best-known of James’s spine-chillers.

Shelley Frankenstein frontis

This talk begins with an outline of the history and characteristics of ‘the Gothic’ – a highly complex term in both historiography and literature. The strong presence of Gothic writing in Aberdeen University Library’s holdings is then discussed, from The Old English Baron to Frankenstein and Northanger Abbey, alongside the prodigious output of Lane and Newman’s Minerva Press. Finally, the lecture will focus on the ghost stories of M. R. James, in particular a detailed reading of one of his best-known tales, “Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad”. The story is seen to encapsulate in short-story form the richness of Gothic and the tensions of the period in which it was written, and it is suggested that the story conveys far more about fear than the author himself may have intended.

Keith M C O’Sullivan is Senior Rare Books Librarian at the University of Aberdeen. He has written on James, Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer and John Bisset Chapman’s collection of early twentieth-century literature, as well as contemporary Gothic.

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