A Weekend Conference Featuring Dorset's Darker Side!

Hardy and Gothic Wessex - Call for Papers

A Weekend Conference Featuring Dorset's Darker Side!

28-30 October 2022 at Dorchester Corn Exchange

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Keynote Speakers:

Jeremy Harte (Curator of Bourne Hall Museum): 'Fate and the Folk: Vernacular Roots for Hardy's View of Life'

Dr Jen Baker (University of Warwick): 'A gruesome fragment of humanity: Hardy's Gothic Children'

Jerry Bird (The Folklore Society): 'God, Death and the Flea: Exploring the Gothic in the Later Works of T.F. Powys'

Dr Joan Passey (University of Bristol): 'Out of the Sound of the Railway Whistle: Thomas Hardy's Gothic Railways'

Trev Hill (University of Warmia and Mazury, Olsztyn, Poland): Mary Webb: From super-Mare to the Supernatural'

Dr Jessica Campbell (McKendree University, St. Louis, USA): 'Fairy Lore in the Wessex Novels'

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The rural idyll of Thomas Hardy's Wessex does not immediately conjure images commensurate with the stereotypical Gothic tropes of crumbling castles, life after death, the cessation of patrilineage, ghosts, premature burial and confinement. However, Hardy utilized Gothic tropes in many of his short stories and arguably some of his novels, particularly the sensation tale Desperate Remedies. In works such as 'Barbara of the House of Grebe', 'The Doctor's Legend', 'The Withered Arm' and 'Fiddler of the Reels' we see Hardy making recourse to folk-horror legends and practices and psycho-sexual torture and confinement. Ghosts and their portents abound in his poetry and he was acutely aware of the presence of the Unheimliche – that which should be repressed but has reared its ugly head in order to frighten, to reaffirm the existence of the Uncanny.

Gothic Wessex is not the province of Hardy alone – many authors dabbling in the Gothic either lived in Wessex, were based there during the writing of a particular piece of work or took their inspiration from what on the surface appears to be a picture-postcard place to live, but is so very much more than that. Sir Frederick Treves who took The Elephant Man, John Merrick, under his wing, was educated in Dorchester under the tutelage of William Barnes; the Shelleys are interred at St. Peter's Church in Bournemouth; Sabine Baring-Gould – author of nineteenth-century folk-horror and werewolf tales - was a contemporary and aquaintance of Hardy's and donated a pair of exquisite Gothic chairs to St. George's Church in Fordington in Dorcheser; the extraordinary Powys family made Dorset their literary heartland, Theodore Francis Powys penned many allegorical short stories and novels in which God, Death and Love walk incarnate among the rural poor of Wessex; John Meade-Faulkner, another Dorset writer, produced one of the greatest Gothic tales of the fin-de-siecle: 'The Lost Stradivarius'; Robert Louis Stevenson was living at 'Skerrivore' just outside Bournemouth when he wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; and arguably the greatest ghost-story writer of all time – M.R. James – set his chilling tale 'The Wailing Well' in Dorset outside the deserted village of Tyneham, appearing in person to read the story to the annual Eton College Boy Scout Convention in 1927 at Warbarrow Bay – one wonders what the young boys thought of the many ghosts and hangings and things converging upon them! Dorset also boasts its own Screaming Skull – at Bettiscombe Manor – which screams if moved.

Hardy knew and was intimate with many of these authors and representatives of Dorset folklore.

The Thomas Hardy Society warmly invites proposals for papers of twenty minutes in presentation length on any author or topic relating to Hardy as a writer of the Gothic or Wessex as a base for the Gothic. Subjects include, but are by no means limited to:

The legacy of the Shelleys
Robert Louis Stevenson's contribution to Wessex Gothic
Contributions by Gothic Wessex authors and/or affiliates of Hardy such as the Powys family, Mary Webb, Sabine Baring-Gould, John Meade-Faulkner, M.R. James and Minette Walters
Film adaptations of Gothic Wessex such as 'From Time To Time' set at Athelhampton House in Dorset
Ghost legends associated with Wessex locations
Folk-horror legends associated with Wessex locations
Hardy's own contributions to the Gothic genre, whether it be through his fiction, his collecting of folk-lore or his architectural work
This conference will be a weekend event and will include keynote lectures and cfp panels, along with a ghost walk around Dorchester, a performance by Don't Go Into the Cellar of 'The Wailing Well' and 'The Screaming Skull' and a trip to Bournemouth to visit Skerrivore, and St Peter's Church – home of the Shelley graves and the magnificent Shelley monument.

Please send propoals of not more than 250 words to Dr Tracy Hayes at info@hardysociety.org

no later than 30th August. Student bursaries are available, please include details of university affiliation and how this conference would benefit your research.

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