Having taught variations of his current second-year topic ‘Gothic: Terror, Horror and the Supernatural’ for almost five years, Flinders English lecturer Dr Eric Parisot noticed that more and more students came to him at the end of the semester, asking for recommendations for more Gothic reading over the summer. Eric thought to himself: “Well, if these students are interested in reading Gothic beyond the end of the semester, then it might be a good idea to have a Gothic reading group that meets only four or five times a year.”
Eric and Creative Writing lecturer Dr Sean Williams have since established the Gothic book club and are happy that the core group is growing. “During busy times, we can be three people, at other times around 10 show up. It’s mainly former Gothic students who want to continue with some form of study. But anyone is welcome who wants to get involved in campus life – undergrads, postgrads, academic and professional staff and even people from off-campus.”
What does the reading group involve?
Meeting in the Humanities building foyer on Friday nights at five o’clock, Eric and his students come together and explore Gothic texts that they haven’t read previously. “We discuss short stories, novels and if we’re feeling under pressure, we start to watch a movie instead to discuss that. It’s designed to be fun.” Inspired by the reading group some of Eric’s students have gone on to Honours projects in Gothic.
The club is very democratic with Eric making a point of not curating a list. After discussing their chosen text, the group decides what will be read next. “Everyone throws their hat in the ring as to what we read. Sometimes the ideas come flying thick and fast and we end up selecting texts for the next six months or so. It’s very democratic.” Usually, the group agrees on two to three short stories or if a novel is selected, it’s only the one.
“Shirley Jackson is a name that keeps cropping up, she might become the first author who has the pleasure of being read twice. She’s really very popular at the moment. We read The Haunting of Hill House in the first year of the Gothic reading group. Now Netflix has an adaptation going by the same name, even though it’s not the same story. That has actually been a bit of a success story. Before the guided reading group, I hadn’t read that novel yet. I found it so interesting that I’ve incorporated it into my teaching syllabus. So, students have a chance to study it now.”
Interesting insights and perspectives
While some books don’t trigger many thoughts, others offer a lot to discuss. “It’s so interesting hearing other people’s opinions, they often trigger thoughts and responses that I wouldn’t have expected. That’s what I love about the Gothic reading group. That’s what I love about teaching. It’s not just one way, it’s always a two-way street back and forth. I like the opportunity to test out a text on this group before incorporating it into the Gothic topic.
“Whether I’m teaching formally, or I’m in the reading group, there’s always something that comes up that I’ve never thought of and is very interesting. On one occasion when we were talking about horror as a Gothic literary aesthetic, removed from the experience, or the fact that we can put horror down and remove ourselves from the experience, which is why we enjoy it, one member brought their personal history, the personal trauma to the conversation.
“They said this particular horror was not something they can simply put down, because it relates to their personal trauma and so, they carry this text and these themes with them. That really got us thinking about how literature broadly, but in this case, Gothic, is not something we can always put down. Sometimes we have to carry that sense of trauma or horror with us. The text can be a bridge between somebody else’s fictional narrative and our own personal experience. That really opened my eyes to a different perspective, and to think about the way these graphic texts are functioning differently for different people.”
Interested in joining the Gothic reading group and diving deep? Join the Gothic Reading Group Facebook group.