Professor of the dark arts
Dealing with vampires, demons, ghosts and haunted castles is all in a day's work for Professor William Hughes. The author of three books on Dracula and his creator Bram Stoker – with another book on the bloodsucking count out in the spring – William is the only professor of Gothic studies in Britain, and probably the world.
Professor and senior lecturer at the school of English and Creative Studies at Bath Spa University, where he has worked for 16 years, William lives at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and some of his home furnishings reflect the strange trappings of his professional domain – a replica Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus used as a CD rack, and the odd antique human skull.
Liverpool-born William has turned a schoolboy's fascination with "subversive" fiction – beginning with Dennis Wheatley's witchcraft novels such as The Devil Rides Out – into a colourful academic career which often demands his appearance on radio and TV as a paranormal pundit.
His most recent media foray was on Most Haunted Live in January for a discussion of incubi and succubi, male and female night demons. And William is also the editor of the academic journal, Gothic Studies.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
"When I was at school I was a complete addict of Dennis Wheatley novels," he told me. "I began reading him because it was a forbidden topic. My English master couldn't understand why I was reading these things. Marvellously, I kept my interest while reading orthodox fiction. Then when I went to university I discovered it was possible to study these texts as serious literature." He developed an interest first in 18th century and later in 19th century Gothic literature – the precursors of the popular horror fiction of the 20th century – and was then drawn to the work of Bram Stoker which became the subject of his PhD.
That was his ticket to Transylvania, so to speak, and today, he's an internationally respected expert on Dracula and his creepy cohorts.
Originally, "Gothic" was an architectural term applied, most familiarly, to the style of the great medieval cathedrals of northern Europe. "The term was used commonly to mean barbarous or barbaric as compared to the classical Greek and Roman styles," William explained.
"When, in the mid-18th century, a style of writing came about that was concerned with medieval settings, ghosts, demons, ruined buildings, darkness, shadows and lost secrets, the word Gothic was applied to it."
T he first Gothic novel was Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto in 1765, and by the end of the century the new genre had become extremely popular and was seen as a reaction against the rationalism and orderliness of Enlightenment thinking – a phenomenon paralleled today, says William, in "lad mags" and the reaction against political correctness, for example.
What was it that lurked in vampirism, Dracula and the Gothic that had continued to fascinate us down to the present day? "I think the word 'lurks' you have used is a very good one in this context," said William. "It's still a subversive form. There's still something slightly unrespectable about it, even if it's studied at university and published in scholarly editions.
"The Gothic is still something that isn't quite culturally accepted. I think there's a little rebellious edge there that keeps readers reading it.
"There are other things, too. We live in a technological age now, of computers and mobile phones, of communication and cameras everywhere, and there's a hankering sometimes for a world of ghosts and demons and mystery.
"We live in a world where mystery is explained every day, so reading fiction where mystery resists explanation is somehow, I think, a fulfilling activity."
The movie industry had done much to bring people to Gothic literature, with such films as Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula and the new version of The Wicker Man. It had helped to introduce the Gothic tradition to new generations.
Did all the macabre mayhem that the Gothic involved ever give William nightmares? "No, I sleep very well at night," he replied. "I always have. I'm a horribly prosaic person, I suppose, in that respect. I certainly don't fear vampires."
But did vampires – which, as Van Helsing points out in Dracula, have been reported down the ages from as far back as Ancient Egypt – actually exist?
"As a species, as a spiritual thing, not in the conventional sense of Count Dracula," said William. "I think there are people out there who can drain the strength from others, and who can draw their sustenance from other people's power – consciously or unconsciously, it's debatable."