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2.8 - ‘Spectrology’: Gothic Showmanship in Nineteenth-Century Popular Shows and Media

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2020

Catherine Spooner
Affiliation:
Lancaster University
Dale Townshend
Affiliation:
Manchester Metropolitan University
Angela Wright
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

This chapter offers a survey of a full century of Gothic entertainments, including shows such as the phantasmagoria, Pepper’s Ghost, the magic theatre, and theatrical séances, as well as macabre shows in penny gaffs, fairgrounds and the first screening venues for early films. In relation to this variety of entertainments, it argues for an open definition of Gothic, pointing out that it was the adaptability of Gothic registers that proved so productive for nineteenth-century showmen and women, allowing them routinely to attract audiences at all sorts of venues and as tastes changed across the decades. Drawing on a wide range of primary research in newspapers, the chapter also reconsiders the relationship between these patterns of ‘Gothic showmanship’, and the mass media spectacles delivered by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century magic- lantern shows and early film. Such media demonstrated continuities with Gothic shows of the preceding century, but also with the eclecticism of late twentieth and twenty-first-century Gothic mass media, suggesting a long trajectory for patterns of Gothic showmanship that is worthy of further consideration.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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