Posted by: emmacwatkins1 | November 14, 2021

Review: The Museum of Literature Ireland’s “Daughters of Dracula” panel, 10/28/21

Graphic from Museum of Literature Ireland

Daughters of Dracula” took place at the Museum of Literature Ireland, in Dublin, on Thursday, October 28th. It began as a hybrid event with a live stream, but due to technical difficulties was alternatively released as part of the museum’s The Dublin Gothic Podcast. This podcast is described on MoLI’s website as “a series looking at the intersection between art, psychology, folklore, architecture, natural history, and Ireland’s urban gothic writing.” The panel was moderated by Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Katie Mishler and made up of writers Sarah Davis-Goff, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, and Sophie White. The in-person aspect of the event was held in the Old Physics Theater of the MoLI. This room has three floor-to-ceiling gothic-style windows, which added to the atmosphere and related to the content of the event, as noted by some of my fellow virtual attendees who made many remarks about the gothic atmosphere in the live stream chat before the technical difficulties. “Daughters of Dracula” did an amazing job of braiding discussions of the legacy of Victorian horror writing and Irish folklore with contemporary Irish women’s writing, particularly focusing on horror writing. 

Photo from Open House Dublin

Sadly, due to technical difficulties, the live stream was cut short, but since the event was so discussion-heavy, I feel that I didn’t lose out on too much by listening to it in podcast form instead. That being said, it was occasionally difficult to attribute quotations to specific people if they didn’t also reference their work or bits of their biography listed on the website, so occasionally I will refer to someone simply as “the panelist.”

According to the event description, the main concept of the discussion was set to revolve around the long-lasting cultural legacies of “Vampires, ghosts, and the undead … [And how those] uncanny figures inform, or perhaps infect, depictions of the body, maternity, and sexuality in contemporary Irish women’s writing.” The first question came directly from the title of the event and asked panelists how they felt Bram Stoker, and more specifically Dracula informed their own gothic or horror writing. Sarah Davis-Goff, co-founder of Tramp Press and author of the 2019 novel Last Ones Left Alive, answered first, saying, “I’m not sure we can ever really untangle ourselves from [Stoker],” remarking on how that text is so integral to modern notions of gothic horror writing. All the panelists seemed to be in agreement, though, that Stoker was very “anti-the-power-of-women,” and they shared a laugh about how he would react to the four of them on the panel that night discussing Irish women’s literary triumphs. 

Panelist Doireann Ní Ghríofa, whose genre-blending debut prose book A Ghost in the Throat was published in 2020, explained how interacting with the gothic and horror genres allows her to feel “very close, culturally, to the people who came before us by engaging with our folklore.” She explained that one example that helps further her understanding of historical relationship with superstition and folklore is imagining people “before the advent of electric light … when the dark is coming, all [they’ve] got against it is a candle.” It was vivid imagery like this that really made the event special and allowed it to function just as well in an audio-only format as it would have live and in person.

I gained a new perspective from the way Doireann tied discussion of the true crime genre today to folklore when she explained, “We hear these stories and retell them to each other … it’s almost like an amulet … protecting ourselves by rehearsing these stories … there’s an element of the superstitious about it.” In a similar way, when addressing the frequency with which the horror genre appears in women’s writing, other panelists referenced how people who menstruate and give birth are well-accustomed to gore and other body-horror-type features of horror tales. This part of the conversation discussed how elements of the gothic and horror can be found throughout the varying genres the panelists write in. Their writing spans a wide range of genres including memoir, historical fiction, speculative fiction, poetry, biography, non-fiction academic writing, and even a cookbook (Sophie White’s 2016 book Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown), proving that horror is not exclusive to more recognized poetry or novel forms.  

Overall, I loved how the discussion branched out from what could have been just a simple conversation on Stoker and his contemporaries. In bringing in current phenomena such as true crime and contemporary memoirs, the conversation was exciting, progressive, and relevant, but still succeeded in being rooted in the common elements of horror and the gothic. I look forward to seeing what comes of the “Mapping Gothic Dublin: 1820-1900,” project, which is described on the website as “research[ing] the relationship between Dublin’s urban history and the development of Ireland’s literary gothic tradition.”

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