The Manchester Literature Festival Blog
Young Digital Reporter Review: Gothic Literature Walking Tour
“That’s what gothic is all about – turning the world upside down.”: MLF’s Young Digital Reporter Abbie Phillips discovered ‘the hidden underbelly of Manchester’s city streets’.
This time of the year is the perfect time to read and celebrate gothic literature. Not only because the nights roll in sooner, but because the transition between summer and winter fits the genre so well. As our expert tour guide, Anne Beswick, pointed out – gothic literature is often about exploring the in-between. Some of the stories she told on our tour explored those gaps – between life and death, reality and fantasy, science and magic – that still excite us in the narratives we share today.
It’s a tour that reveals the hidden underbelly of Manchester’s city streets always lurking just beneath our feet. I expected to find out how much influence the gothic genre had on Manchester and its writers, but I didn’t expect to learn how the city itself weaved its own influence into the gothic. The tour began at the south porch entrance to Manchester Cathedral. Standing in the grounds beneath the watchful eyes of the gargoyles, it was easy to envision the history of the city playing out as Anne described it. We learned that the gothic period was a counter-reaction to the classical style that had dominated before it. Anne explained: “That’s what gothic is all about – turning the world upside down.”
Our first stop was Chetham’s library, where we learned about Doctor John Dee, a philosopher, alchemist and personal astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. It’s said that he was the inspiration for Prospero in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Doctor Dee also captured the attention of the locals and he has lived on in their stories, passed down from generation to generation – is the Devil’s hoof print really burned into the top of his desk for eternity? That’s up to you to decide.
Dee wasn’t the only writer we discussed that dabbled in the possibilities lying between science and magic. At Parsonage Gardens, Anne told us about the year without a summer in 1816 (something all Mancunians can relate to). Without this strange weather phenomenon, caused by a massive volcanic eruption, one of the most famous works of gothic literature might never have been written. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has had a lasting influence on our culture and, as we discussed, it still resonates today.
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the tour, but along the way we walked in the footsteps of the likes of Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë to find out how Manchester worked its way into some of their most famous works. Our tour was punctuated by the music of the various churches we passed, giving it that extra gothic flavour. The best part is that if you missed this tour at the festival, there are walking tours running every single day of the year and plenty of them are related to literature.
Abbie Phillips has had an article published in Time Out London magazine and has been running her own YouTube channel discussing books, films and TV since 2014. You can watch Abbie’s videos here or follow her on Twitter @TheStoryMagpie.