One of the pictures on my wall beside my computer is a drawing I bought last year, when for a short while I unusually had money to spare. It’s the image Plague Rats, based on Emilie Autumn’s stage show by the artist better known as model Ulorin Vex, but probably more on her at a later date. I remember telling Ulorin at the time that it reminded me of art works from that great, but now deceased, publication of the 1990s – Udolpho. And suddenly, just now as I was sitting here staring into space, I remembered this connection.
Udolpho, formerly The Goth was a quarterly literary magazine published by the Gothic Society. It died, suddenly, at the turn of the century, and I’ve often wondered what happened to its editor, publisher and all round head girl of the Gothic Society Jennie Gray.
The journal was a fascinating mishmash of literary reviews and discussions, accounts of curious events in history, centred on the Gothic literature of the Victorian and pre Victorian periods, but mixed with modern literature and film and also with the decadence of the late nineteenth century thrown in for good measure. Early editions reported on attempts – a few successful and most unsuccessful to encourage members to meet up for cemetery tours and banquets.
The Society was also responsible for reprinting a number of unobtainable books – Tales of the Dead, The Dead Donkey and the Guillotined Woman, and the poetry of Thomas Lovell Beddoes. It also reflected Jennie’s many interests, for example – across several issues the debate raged on the Highgate Vampire and the competing claims of the two protagonists in its story.
It also included a wide range of line drawing illustration, some reprinted from Victorian artists, much of it new and some produced especially for the magazine. Much of this was in the style of Beardsley and his contemporaries.
But at the core of it was Jennie, her editorial content was, for me a highlight of each edition. Raw sarcastic wit, fascination with her subject matter, and sometimes the ennui of meeting deadlines and producing yet another quality magazine were played out in her introduction to each edition.
The current issue of the magazine is devoted to the American Weird. At least that was the noble intention before contributors started falling like nine-pins, struck down by diseases, misfortune and writer’s block. As a result, instead of the grand panoramic vision which was planned, we have some very excellent, very vivid, but rather disconnected articles. Under no circumstance, therefore, except under extreme duress, would we say that we have been, seen and done American Gothic.
In the good old days before we started pretending to be anything other than a jeux-d’espirit, this would hardly have seemed to matter, but now we have decided we want to be taken seriously, we are going to have to reckon with the ancestral curse on this house. Which is, that as soon as any plan is brought out into the open, and ceases swimming in the cloudy shuttered medium of our brains, it inevitably meets a ghastly death and never, as a consequence, amounts to anything. The logical conclusion to be drawn from the frequency of such disasters is that all announcements of our future intentions should be banned.
This being so, we will immediately resume our former policy of complete news black-out about Gothic Society matters past, present and future. This may prove inconvenient at times, but think of it as being a war situation. We can do no better than adapt the following homily printed in a newspaper in 1918 which members who require reassurance should cut out and stick on the wall.
How the civilian may help in this crisis
- Be cheerful
- Write encouragingly to friends at the front
- Don’t repeat foolish gossip
- Don’t listen to idle rumours
- Don’t think you know better than Jennie Gray.
(The Goth, January 1993)
The Gothic Society and Jennie Gray – ten years later still sadly missed – still a person I’d like to meet.