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The Gothic imagination

Superstition, the Gothic imagination and cultural form: impacts on cultural life and public discourse

Researcher: Roger Luckhurst

As an internationally recognized expert in Gothic and science fiction, Roger Luckhurst has made a significant impact on the interpretation of and creative inspiration of these genres. His work connects the Gothic with knowledge and belief in the modern period, treating it as a bellwether of cultural change. His introductions have contributed to the success of several new Oxford University Press ‘World Classic’ editions of nineteenth century works. He has helped develop public discourse on the history of marginal beliefs and has inspired a number of artists engaging with these ideas.

His books, The Invention of Telepathy 1870-1901 (Oxford University Press, 2002), The Trauma Question (Routledge, 2008), The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy (Oxford University Press, 2012), have earned him a reputation for working on the space between fact and fiction, science and magic. His research investigates marginal cultural forms from the late nineteenth century to the present day, focusing on different kinds of fringe beliefs, including spiritualism and the Victorian invention of telepathy which turned spiritualism into the ‘science’ of psychical research.

His work uses literature, art, film and television as its cultural focus for investigating what is a wide cultural phenomenon. Rather than contest or dismiss the persistence of superstitious or pseudo-scientific thinking, he investigates the adaptive forms of magical thinking that the language and imagery of the supernatural allows. Luckhurst uses deep cultural historical research to investigate the origins of terms like ‘telepathy’, and their emergence from overlapping contexts of energy physics, dynamic psychology, field anthropology, literature and myth. He examines their origins and tracks the remarkable dissemination of terms once dismissed as merely pseudo-scientific.

Luckhurst’s academic contribution has been recognised internationally. He has been an invited speaker at over twenty conferences since 2003, in Ireland, Scotland, America, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Poland and Spain, including keynotes at the International Gothic Association and the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts. He has also been a visiting fellow at Birmingham University and at the Flemish Academy of Arts and Science in Brussels for work in this area.

As a consequence of his research, Luckhurst is also editor of popular classics including Late Victorian Gothic Tales (2005); Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde (2006); Dracula (2011) and H. P. Lovecraft’s Classic Horror Tales (May 2013). He has been commissioned to write new introductions for Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines in 2016 and H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine in 2017.

In 2012, Luckhurst was invited to work as an academic adviser on the programming for the BFI Southbank’s Gothic season. He ran a number of seminars and workshops and was commissioned by BFI Publishing to write an essay for the BFI Gothic Compendium and a book on The Shining (in the celebrated ‘BFI Classics’ series). This has continued in 2014, with Luckhurst advising on the BFI Science Fiction season, writing the BFI Classic for Ridley Scott’s film Alien. He also wrote on the BFI Gothic season for the Guardian.

Luckhurst was also an organiser of a centenary conference on the journalist and Spiritualist W. T. Stead, held at the British Library in April 2012 to mark Stead’s death on the Titanic a hundred years ago. Together with Laurel Brake and others, he edited the British Library publication, W. T. Stead: Newspaper Revolutionary. He wrote about Stead for the Daily Telegraph history pages.

British artists have used Luckhurst’s work on the Gothic as a source of inspiration for their work and to help audiences interpret it. The British artist and film-maker Patrick Keiller has long referenced Luckhurst as a source of ideas and asked to be interviewed by him during his exhibition ‘The City of the Future’ at the BFI in 2008.

The artist Linda Toigo produced an artist-book version of Jekyll and Hyde informed by Luckhurst’s edition, which gained her special commendation in her final show at the London College of Communication and was selected for exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection in 2011.

The painter Dolly Thompsett, who uses science fictional and Gothic imagery in her paintings, asked him to write a catalogue essay for her show at the Ritter/Zamet gallery in Autumn 2009.

In June 2013, Luckhurst was invited to chair an onstage Q&A with the director of Creation theatre company following their production of Jekyll and Hyde in Oxford. Luckhurst’s edition was a key reference point for the production. He also went into the writing/rehearsal room to help the celebrated theatre company Frantic Assembly on a new project in 2013.

Luckhurst’s publications have led to numerous radio appearances including Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed (August 2011); Radio 3’s The Essay series (April 2012). He also wrote and presented the documentary on Radio 4 ‘True Tales from the Crypt’, (Sept 2012).

He has advised on radio drama commissioning for BBC Worldwide; on Optomen Television’s ‘Mysteries of the Manor’ series for Discovery Channel US (2013), and for Raw Television company’s ‘Unexplained Mysteries’ series.

He was also commissioned to write short story on the mummy’s curse for the collection The Book of the Dead sponsored by the Egyptian Exploration Society and the publishing company, Jurassic London.

He has had numerous invitations to speak at a wide variety of non-academic events including at the Bishopsgate Institute, Bart’s Pathology Museum, the British Library, the Liverpool Maritime Museum, the Wellcome Institute, the Lichfield Literary Festival, the Royal College of Art, and UCL’s Flinders Petrie Museum.