We begin tonight’s event exploring Gothic Landscapes with @KateMayfield , the ‘Undertaker’s daughter’ #HIPGothic pic.twitter.com/zbxHD2YB1F
— Gothic MMU (@gothicmmu) October 24, 2014
Late on Friday, we returned to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester for a really unique experience in Gothic creativity, with Memento Moriatas – a London-based group of writers and musicians who explore themes of death, dream and mystery… We heard first from Kate Mayfield, whose soft Kentucky accent enthralls her audience as she reads from her memoirs, The Undertaker’s Daughter. A darkly engaging recollection of growing up in the small-town American deep south, her work skates dangerously close to the supernatural… which isn’t surprising when her father runs his funeral business from the family home!
Southern Gothic is a rich yet overlooked vein of literature in this blogger’s opinion. As Mayfield describes,
“Being haunted is a characteristic of the region.”
It’s hard to imagine America, with its comparatively brief history, possessing Gothic qualities. But instead of the crumbling ruins of Dark Ages Europe, we have the peeling clapboard plantation houses of the American Civil War, a period of no less horrific history. The impressions of a young girl, brought up in the legacy of the South, the ‘sweltering heat of the Bible Belt’, are vividly and painfully brought out in this spellbinding account.
I am reminded frequently of New Orleans, that melting-pot of culture squatting in the American South-West like a bad memory, home to decadent excess and the dark magics of voodoo – we dismiss Southern Gothic at our peril…!
Next, we explore briefly some more American Gothic heritage, courtesy the fabulously talented Kirsten Morrison. With a multitude of instruments and a magnificent voice, she sets to music the poetry of – amongst others – the masterful Edgar Allen Poe.
In the vast and cavernous Engine House performance hall of the Foundation, the audience is utterly silent and still as Morrison weaves effortlessly the foreboding imagery of death and love into majestic, Gothic tones.
After the next speaker, she will return with more poetry in song, from scions of the early Gothic like Byron and Coleridge – whose epic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a favourite of The Blogging Goth. It is a breathtaking, unsettling and entirely enjoyable experience, and we encourage everyone to attend a performance by Kirsten Morrison.
The third and final member of Memento Moriatas to attend is author Lloyd Shepherd, stepping in for Essie Fox who was sadly unable to attend. Lloyd’s books are fiction, yet remain rooted in the very real horror of Victorian London, and in particular he is fascinated with one lost graveyard. Lost, because no church would take responsibility for the burial ground of the truly lost – the children and women of the sex trade in the English capital of centuries past. This was, and is, Crossbones Graveyard.
‘The monsters I write about are more day-to-day. Rich men, mostly, doing horrible things in the early 19th century – to slaves, to foreigners, and in my most recent book, to women. So when I think of Gothic landscapes, I tend to think of London. I tend to think of the stories that lie within London’s buildings and streets.” – Lloyd Shepherd, with thanks to Humanity Hallows.
As well as abandoned graveyards, Shepherd touched on such privileged extravagances as the Hellfire Club, whose lashings of excess were tainted with unholy tendencies. What he spoke of is all the more frightful for its familiarity, occurring amidst a London of the past it is true… but a London that is also alarmingly familiar. Swerving between the darkly humorous and the just plain dark, Shepherd entertained and illuminated us all with an inviting mix of nefarious deeds and astounding events bordering on the paranormal, woven into the grim history of our greatest city.
Here concluded a fascinating and frightening evening of storytelling, history, music and conversation as the audience engaged in a lively Q&A with the speakers. More physical offerings were on hand courtesy of Shabby Cheek and his overflowing cases of grotesque geegaws and other cruel curios, ensuring that all attendees could be as attired as the antagonists of the tales spun tonight!
Memento @moriatas are here and getting into the #Gothic mood with the Shabbycheek cabinet of curiosities! #HIPGothic pic.twitter.com/9YiKvn1FjX
— Gothic MMU (@gothicmmu) October 24, 2014