The Black Vampyre and Other Creations: Gothic Visions of New Worlds

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Talks, a virtual tour, and flash fiction competition on Gothic dreams of new worlds

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This event is centred upon a group of visionary writers who have strong links with St Pancras Old Church—Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary and Percy Shelley, and John Polidori. We will explore Gothic dreams of new worlds and the creatures that inhabit them, notably Mary Shelley’s plague world, John Polidori’s vampire, and the ghosts of WW1. Through a virtual tour, attendees will visit the scene of Mary and Percy Shelley’s courtship and Polidori’s resting place, and contemplate Gothic worlds via presentations and performances by Marcus Sedgwick (novelist), Dr Karl Bell (historian), Dr Sam George (vampire expert), and Dr Bill Hughes (Gothic scholar).


12.00–12.10 Welcome – The Being Human Festival and Gothic New Worlds

12.10–12.25 Marcus Sedgwick, ‘“The stories are begun”: Writing, sanity, illness, and John Polidori’.

Marcus Sedgwick is an award-winning writer for young adults who explores Gothic themes of illness and mortality.

12.25–12.40 Karl Bell, ‘Afterlives and Afterworlds: Spiritualism, the spirit world, and the First World War’.

Dr Karl Bell is Reader in Cultural and Social History and the Director of the popular Supernatural Cities Project at the University of Portsmouth, an interdisciplinary network of humanities and social-science research into urban environments.

12.40-12.55 Q & A

12.55–13.15 Gothic Graveyard Tour

We’ll be indulging in a spot of virtual Gothic tourism in St Pancras Old Church Graveyard, visiting the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. It is rumoured that the poet Shelley was drawn to the teenage Mary due to her melancholy habit of reading on her mother’s grave. The grave became the site of Mary and Percy Shelley’s courtship. The tour will also take us to the resting place of John Polidori, the author of ‘The Vampyre’. Polidori’s grave was moved to make way for the railways and today is one of many unsettled headstones marked by the uncanny The Hardy Tree. When the borough of St Pancras undertook the moving of headstones in the late 1860s, a young Thomas Hardy assisted in the removal of remains. The Gothic fusing of the living tree and the stacked gravestones has fascinated writers down the years.

13.15–13.30 Tea Break

13.30–13.45 Bill Hughes, ‘Enlightenment and its shadows: Mary Wollstonecraft, The Last Man, and The Black Vampyre’.

Dr Bill Hughes is a literary scholar and co-convenor of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project.

13.45–14.00 Sam George, ‘Polidori’s Vampyre and its progeny: Gothic new worlds’. Dr Sam George is Associate Professor of Research at the University of Hertfordshire and the Convener of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project.

14.00-14.15 Q & A

14.15–14.45 Flash fiction competition (40-50 words)

We will pay homage to the famous story-writing contest at the Villa Diodati in 1816 where Mary Shelley was inspired by her vision of Frankenstein and where Byron wrote the fragment which Polidori transformed into The Vampyre. Attendees will write Gothic flash-fiction inspired by our theme of Gothic New Worlds and our wonderfully historic Gothic setting.

14.45–15.00 Responses and summing up

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