Dr Sara WassonLecturer in Gothic Studies
I have two research concentrations: the Second World War Gothic of the British home front, and twenty-first century Gothic approached through a medical humanities lens. Both strands of my research are concerned with ethical witness in response to individual and collective suffering. My current research projects include a monograph on contemporary Gothic and critical medical humanities; research on literary representations of chronic pain beyond traditional illness narrative prose memoir forms; and a project examining Second World War home front representations of combatants and refugees as spectral figures, liminal and vulnerable, drawing on archives of refugee memoir and spiritualist activity.
Second World War Gothic
My first book Urban Gothic of the Second World War (Palgrave, 2010) examines home front literature and internee writing of the Second World War, arguing that the Gothic mode of representation marks moments of fracture in the national mythologies of wartime homes, cities, capital, and fellowship. I put wartime writing in dialogue with theory that examines the processes of nation-formation and modernity, particularly post-imperialist and post-structuralist readings of nation as a narrative construct. I write specifically against the twin tendencies that continue to prevail in representations of the Blitz: the tendency in popular culture to romantically oversimplify the home front as site of sturdy camaraderie, and the trend in literary criticism to approach home-front war experience within a therapeutic paradigm privileging psychological resilience. Instead, I believe it is vital to acknowledge the marginalised primary sources that present the home front nation as a site of trauma and structural exclusion, particularly in the experience of home front refugees.
The monograph won the International Gothic Association’s Allan Lloyd Smith Award for advancing the field of Gothic Studies. It was also short-listed for the ESSE Cultural Studies Award category A.
The monograph has also been widely cited in academic research internationally, and was widely reviewed and praised in journals from a wide range of disciplines, including: Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society; Horror Studies; The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies; The Review of English Studies; The Literary London Journal; Urban Geography, the academic website The Gothic Imagination at Stirling University and the German journal Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik. Edwina Keown in the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies described the book as ‘a must read for anyone interested in twentieth-century Gothic, urban Gothic, and the after-life of the fin-de-siècle Gothic’. Phyllis Lassner in The Review of English Studies writes that the monograph ‘successfully reveals the rich possibilities of using the Gothic mode as a method of analysing wartime fiction and by extension, of twentieth-century cultural production’. Professor Avril Horner of Kingston University wrote, ‘Wasson’s use of unpublished archival material makes reading this book an intensely moving as well as intellectually stimulating experience’. In the international journal Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society, Heather Nunn wrote ‘Wasson’s is a rich text that ends with a powerful plea for a resistance to tidy closure and to political strategy that advocates mourning as a collective response to collective loss and pain’. The book also drew attention in the non-academic press, with Times columnist Richard Morrison drawing on it as an illuminating historical comparison with the London riots: he calls my monograph ‘a fascinating book in which [Wasson] traced the psychological effects of the Blitz, using the observations of 1940s British writers and artists’. The Scotsman described the book as ‘a groundbreaking re-interpretation of the lingering effect of the Blitz’.
Gothic Studies and Medical Humanities
My second research strand examines late 20th and 21st-century Gothic science fiction and film through a medical humanities lens, specifically considering how this genre fiction represents troubling mutations of biomedical practice under the pressures of late capitalism. These genre texts also offer provocative challenges to existing theorisations of the body and posthumanist discourse. Much of my work examines literary and cinematic representations of organ transplantation, and as always I am motivated in this research by the way that this topic raises urgent ethical issues around collective and individual trauma and the ethics of witness. In a similar vein, I have published work examining literary engagements with contemporary genetics and the experience of ‘pre-vivors’, people ‘diagnosed’ with a risk for developing particular disease: I examine how their experience hinges on a struggle to reclaim a sense of narrative agency from a particular medicalised telos.
My work in medical Gothic has been cited and reviewed internationally, and in 2015 I was commissioned to be Guest Editor for the international journal Gothic Studies for a special issue identifying potential future conjunctions between Gothic criticism and emerging medical humanities scholarship.
I also co-edited the collection Gothic Science Fiction 1980-2010 (Liverpool University press, 2011), which examines moments of fracture in narratives of modernity, specifically in discourses of nation, capital and medicine. This collection has also been widely reviewed and praised in international journals, including Science Fiction Studies,Science Fiction Film and Television, the Canadian journal Ariel: A Review of International English Literature hosted at Calgary, and the French journal Belphégor : Littératures populaires et culture médiatique. Writing in Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, for example, Stefania Forlini describes this as ‘a timely collection of eleven essays on works that combine the “disturbing affective lens” and “confined or claustrophobic environment” of the Gothic mode … with the cognitive estrangement of science fiction to explore the troubled boundaries of bodies and nations in the last three decades. … [T]his is an admirable collection of essays that points to a renewed and refreshing critical focus’.
I am a permanent member of the International Gothic Association’s prize-awarding committee selecting forthcoming work. I have collaborated with a local secondary school on a project using Young Adult Gothic fiction, have been invited to speak at a science-fiction fan conference, and have collaborated with colleagues on a museum/art gallery project called Robot Visions, which examined the afterlives of repurposed artefacts, technological obsolescence and its environmental impact. In the media, my work has been invoked in the newspapers the Times, Scotland on Sunday, the Scotsman, and The Journal, and I contributed to a BBC Scotland radio broadcast examining cultural practices around Halloween. I have co-organised two conferences: a graduate student conference on Gothic Science Fiction held at Edinburgh Napier, and a conference on Urban Gothic held in Liverpool.
I am passionate about collaboration, and would be delighted to hear from anyone wishing to collaborate in any of my fields of interest.
PhD Supervision Interests
I would be delighted to hear from prospective PhD students interested in working on the Gothic, science fiction, medical humanities, trauma theory, or Second World War literature.
Frankenstein and the Politics of Vulnerability
Wasson, S. 29/01/2018 In: Science Fiction Film and Television. 11, 2
Before Narrative: Episodic Reading and Representations of Chronic Pain
Wasson, S. 5/01/2018 In: Medical Humanities. 43, p. 1-7. 7 p.
Gothic and the Built Environment: the Architectural Uncanny and the Urban Sublime
Wasson, S. 4/01/2018 In: Gothic and the Arts. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press
Gothic Science Fiction and China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station
Wasson, S. 2018 In: The Gothic Reader . Peter Lang (Oxford)
Creative Manifesto: Translating Chronic Pain
Wasson, S. 15/11/2017
Translating Chronic Pain: online anthology and project website
Wasson, S. 1/11/2017
Scalpel and metaphor: the ceremony of organ harvest in gothic science fiction
Wasson, S. 1/05/2015 In: Gothic Studies. 17, 1, p. 104-123. 20 p.
Useful darkness: intersections between medical humanities and gothic studies
Wasson, S. 05/2015 In: Gothic Studies. 17, 1, p. 1-12. 12 p.
Recalcitrant tissue: organ transfer and the struggle for narrative control
Wasson, S. 2015 In: Technologies of the gothic in literature and culture. London : Routledge p. 99-112.
Gothic cities and suburbs, 1880-present
Wasson, S. 2014 In: The gothic world. London : Routledge p. 132-142. 11 p.
The Twilight Saga and the pleasures of spectatorship: the broken body and the shining body
Wasson, S., Artt, S. 2013 In: Open graves, open minds. Manchester : Manchester University Press p. 181-191. 11 p.
The “Coven of the Articulate”: orality and community in Anne Rice’s vampire fiction
Wasson, S. 02/2012 In: Journal of Popular Culture. 45, 1, p. 197-213. 17 p.
Gothic Science Fiction 1980-2010
Wasson, S., Alder, E. 2011 Liverpool : Liverpool University Press. ISBN: 9781846317071.
Introduction to gothic science fiction
Wasson, S., Alder, E. 2011 In: Gothic science fiction 1980-2010. Liverpool : Liverpool University Press p. 1-18. 18 p.
“A butcher’s shop where the meat still moved”: gothic doubles, organ harvesting and human cloning
Wasson, S. 2011 In: Science fiction 1980-2010. Liverpool : Liverpool University Press p. 73-86. 14 p.
Olalla’s legacy: twentieth century vampire fiction and genetic previvorship
Wasson, S. 2010 In: The Journal of Stevenson Studies. 7, p. 55-81. 27 p.
Urban Gothic of the Second World War
Wasson, S. 2010 Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 9780230577534.
Book Review: Futures from Nature
Wasson, S. 2008 In: Foundation. 37, 103, 5 p.
Wasson, S. 01/2005
Love in the time of cloning: science fictions of transgressive kinship
Wasson, S. 2004 In: Extrapolation. 45, 2, p. 130-144. 15 p.
“A network of inscrutable canyons”: wartime London’s sensory landscapes
Wasson, S. 2004 In: The swarming streets. Amsterdam : Rodopi Press p. 77-95. 19 p.
36 biographical and critical entries
Wasson, S. 2003 In: Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century British Writers. New York : Book Builders
Participation in workshop, seminar, course
13th Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association
Participation in conference
Critical Stories: Annual Conference of the Association of Medical Humanities
Participation in conference
II International Conference: The Discourse of Identity
Participation in conference
Seventh Annual Gothic Postgraduate Conference and Research Training Day
Participation in conference
Bringing Conflict Home_ University of York
Participation in conference
Invited speaker, Manchester Metropolitan University, Centre for Gothic Studies, March 2017. Invited to speak about my research on Gothic and medical humanities. Paper titled: ‘Narrative Disruption: Literature of Chronic Pain’ in the Gothic Mode’.
Invited to serve on the Prize Selection Committee of the International Gothic Association's Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize
Contribution to the work of national or international committees and working groups