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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

On the 22nd of January (I know I’m slightly late, but oh well), I attended one of the Romancing the Gothic seminars. Romancing the Gothic is a series of talks organised by Dr Sam Hirst. Each week, different academics talk about various aspects of Gothic Literature. These talks occur every weekend. This particular talk was titled Mirror, Mirror on the wall: Paintings, Mirrors, and Monstrous Doubles in Irish Gothic Writing and was given by Dr Madeline Potter.

Dr Potter started the talk by giving context to her talk, which included explaining the Gothic double, a trope often used to express an inner struggle of a character. Potter also explained that the trope of the double is not just linked to the Gothic and, according to Dale Townshend, goes back as far as the development of Western thought and imagination and can be traced back to Aristotle and Plato. Medieval works were highly concerned with morality, which is reflected in their literature. As much as I hate to say it (anyone who knows me knows of the beef I have with Spencer), this concern is most obviously seen in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, wherein each book a knight, who is the embodiment of a specific virtue, fights a monster representing a vice. It is also found in Milton’s Paradise Lost, but I can not personally say how strongly this concept is evident as I have not read this book.

Dr Potter then went on to describe the concept of the Irish Gothic. To do this, Dr Potter explained the difference between Irish and English literature, including what sources they had to draw on. Ireland has a rich mythological past that does not exist in England. This mythology is heavily featured in different forms of media, not just in Ireland but also abroad. She also explained how closely the Gothic and Catholicism are tied together in Ireland and how Irish folklore ties into this mix. She also points out that, due to tensions within the Anglo-Irish community (the descendants of the Protestant Ascendancy that had colonised Ireland), of both belonging in Ireland (as they were born and lived here) and not belonging, as they were both Protestant, different in the majority Catholic Ireland, but were also loyal to the crown due to their heritage. As Dr Potter puts it, this dual identity is partially what led to the rise of the Gothic in Anglo-Irish circles and resulted in the majority of Irish Gothic literature being penned by Anglo-Irish Protestant citizens, such as Stoker, Le Fanu and Maturin. 

For the rest of the talk, Dr Potter explained how the concept of the Irish Gothic Double could be found in seven different texts. Before going into the nitty-gritty of each text, there is a summary of the plot, which is quite helpful as I had not even heard of some of the texts used, let alone read them. I sincerely enjoyed this talk and the rest of the Romancing the Gothic talks I have attended. I would sincerely recommend this series to anyone interested in Gothic literature. The series takes place over Zoom and therefore can be attended by anyone, and there is often are guests from other countries watching. As it takes place online, there is a chat function that occurs during the talks. This is often used for comments and questions and makes everything feel more interactive as people can chime in with their own thoughts without interrupting the speaker. Despite the fact there are talks every weekend, they are entirely free, although if one can, they are encouraged to donate, either through the patreon or ko-fi, so that Dr Hirst can pay the speakers for their time, although it is not demanded. Below is a recording of the talk for anyone interested in watching it.

By Mitch

An English postgrad student at UCC interested in feminist readings/theories. The blog title is a reference to Hans Zimmer's "Hoist The Colours"

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