Dark Economies: Anxious Futures, Fearful Pasts – 21st-23rd 2021

Phew, I did it. Somehow. The last few months have been, shall we say, a tad hectic here at the monstrous folklore HQ (or should it be, wolf’s den – I dunno). Not only did I get married last month (Thank you, thank you!) and go on our honeymoon to Whitby, we also discovered that both myself and my wife are going to be parents for the very first time! It has been a manic couple of weeks, made even more difficult by writing book chapters, PhD work and just general office hours at the day job. Alongside this, I also gave two talks on my research. One with the Gothic reading group, based at the University of Birmingham (which was really fun!) and another at the Dark Economies conference, which will be the main focus of this post.

As noted, last week, I was delighted to be able to attend the Dark Economies Conference, held at Falmouth University from the 21st -23rd July. I had previously attended the Folk Horror Conference at Falmouth in 2019 where I had given a paper on the Folkloresque and the Cumbrian Cthulhu stories, which had gone down really well there. More importantly though, I had a great time speaking and just generally meeting people with similar research interests as my own – and so I had some idea of what to expect for this next one, despite it being held at a different part of the campus.

I quickly decided that I would put forward a paper, more closely aligned to my current PhD research and was delighted when it was accepted. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the conference was going to be held in a hybrid format – with many papers being done electronically, while others would be in person. Desperate to escape the confines of my den, where I have been working for the past 18 months, I thought it might be a good opportunity to get down to the seaside for a few days – and so I decided I would take the trip down and attend in person. Alongside the conference, Falmouth is a wonderful place to explore, full of scenic landscapes, a harbour, a beach, as well as great shops, pubs and restaurants (Top picks: INDIdog for breakfast, Harbour Lights for chips, Beerwolf books/Chain Locker for beer!). As such, the idea of having a couple of hours every day exploring and getting away from my office desk, was very attractive. Also, they had lots of palm trees, which was nice.

Pictured: view from the INDIdog restaurant over the harbour

I arrived on the Wednesday during a heatwave, which saw much of the southern part of the UK under an amber weather warning. Despite the heat, I managed to get down to the conference and had a really great few days speaking with fellow researchers – something I’d not been able to do in person since before lockdown started. Across the days there were some wonderful papers, and despite some teething issues regarding technology, we largely managed to navigate through them as the conference went on. It is testament to the organisers and chairs for having the patience to work through these early issues – particularly as it was really the first time I had seen a hybrid styled conference before! While I hope we will be able to attend more conferences in person as the months go by, the advances that we now have regarding digital technology should hopefully mean that we can continue to have more international papers – which I feel is a real bonus to the digital format for conferences.

Nevertheless, we came here for academic papers and the work on show did not disappoint. Professor Marie Mulvey-Roberts would open the proceedings with a brilliant paper on the ‘Dark Economies of Sexual Myths’* in which she looked at 19th century attitudes relating to male and female masturbation, linking it to degeneration, as well as the disturbing story of Dr James Burt within the 20th Century. Following Professor Mulvey-Robert’s work, the next panel I attended had some equally great papers. Liam Knight would talk about the satirical hypertext Bindlestiff (2019) by Wayne Holloway – an ingenious three pronged narrative text that presents an dystopic version of Hollywood cinema. Liam’s paper would be followed by Rhys James Jenkin’s work on Lovecraft and reception, looking at the tempestuous links between Lovecraft and T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ (1922), particularly with regards to the eco gothic and existentialism.

On the next day, we had even more brilliant papers. Both Amy Greenhough and Anna Maria Grzybowska’s work would discuss Leigh Whannell’s brilliant 2020 adaption of The Invisible Man, linking it to concerns over gaslighting and portrayals of domestic abuse. In the same panel, Kirsty Strange would speak on Evie Wyld’s The Brass Rock (2020), particularly in regards to Scottish Gothic, eco feminism and depictions of toxic masculinity. Later in the day, Dr. Elizabeth Parker, author of the book The Forest and the EcoGothic (2020), would give a brilliant key note on the relationship between dark economies and dark ecologies – further linking it to the 2019 film Vivarium, of which many people were immediately putting on their watchlists at the end of the conference.

Other great papers throughout the conference include Professor Robert Williams’s talk on screaming skulls and the many Hauntings of Burton Agnes Hall (which was of interest as I had just done the Wold Newton triangle on my honeymoon!**), Max Jokschus’s excellent paper on Folk Horror in the modern digital age, particularly in relation to the movie Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) and Dr. Emily Alder’s brilliant paper on Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Captain of the Polestar’ (1892) and its relationship to commercial whaling – which I felt had really interesting similarities with current Eco gothic work on wolves and werewolves in Britain. One of my favorite papers would also be Alex Bevan’s work on Peter Benchley’s Jaws (1974) and the eco gothic, a paper which reminded me of how different the book is from the famous film, and has convinced me to dig out my copy from the cupboard at my parents house!

My paper itself, focused on that of the rise of the werewolf in the 19th Century, particularly looking at in relation to cultural transformations in both folklore studies and popular culture. Alongside this, I looked at three different werewolf stories and how such texts deploy the werewolf in different ways, to mean different things. In Gilbert Campbell’s ‘The White Wolf of Kostopchin’ (1889), I considered the werewolf in relation to that of the new woman, while Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mark of the Beast’ (1890) was analysed in relation to British colonial rule and Victorian attitudes regarding British white supremacy. I then rounded the paper off with an alternate reading of the werewolf, as that of a figure of rebellion, particularly within Clemence Housman’s masterful, ‘The Werewolf’ (1896), which presents its female lycanthropic antagonist as ambiguous, even admirable at times. My paper went down incredibly well with lots of really interesting questions, most notably whether the werewolf’s physical characteristics change with each texts specific theme. It was something I’d definitely like to look into further – so a big thank you to the audience for giving me such feedback!

Overall, despite a slight stomach upset at the end of the conference (luckily), I felt the conference was a really great experience and I like to think I’ve made to some really great connections with many of my fellow attendees – particularly Liam, Rhys, Giulia and Sophie – JB Forever! I’d like to extend a massive thank you to the organisers of the event for putting together the programme, particularly Dr. Ruth Heholt, Professor Dawn Keetley and David Devanny for organising what was a brilliant few days of thought provoking discussion. Had a really great time and the weather wasn’t that bad either… never did get to that beach mind.

Also- massive thank you to Brendan Byrne who gave me a great little book titled Haunted Pubs and other Strange Places of Helston, Porthleven and The Lizard – I shall be down soon with the wife and dog to investigate!

*Kudos also has to go to Professor Mulvey-Roberts’s barnstorming piano solo that opened the conference. A real highlight for me, who is sadly musically ungifted!

**For those following on my Instagram – you’ll probably have seen me do a day trip across the Wold Newton triangle in North Yorkshire. I’m thinking of putting together my thoughts and couple of the stories together

Published by cthomsonphd

Craig Thomson is a PhD candidate from Birkbeck, University of London whose research interests include: Horror/Gothic literature, Monster Theory and Folklore Studies. His current research focuses on the re-emergence of the cultural figure of the Werewolf within the popular Gothic literature of the late 19th and early 20th century.

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