Profs & Pints Northern Virginia: The Gothic Ghosts of Christmas-Door tickets remain available.

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Sunday, December 17 2023 4:00 PM 6:00 PM EST

Advance ticket sales have ended but plenty of additional tickets remain available at the door.

Profs & Pints Northern Virginia presents: “The Gothic Ghosts of Christmas,” a look at the old English tradition of telling terrifying tales at Yuletide, with Marianne Noble, professor of Literature at American University.  

The ghosts who visited Scrooge had plenty of company. In fact, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is just one of many ghost stories from the Victorian English tradition of telling frightening tales during the dark nights of the winter holidays. Whereas today we might read—or watch on television—tales of elves or reindeer or snowmen, those gathered around a fire on Christmas Eve in old England would tell each other stories of ghosts, graves, dead bodies, and murders.   

Come to Crooked Run Fermentation in Sterling, Va., to become immersed in this long-lost literary art and learn about its origins and evolution. Your guide on this scholarly journey, Dr. Marianne Noble, writes and teaches courses on nineteenth-century Gothic literature.  

She’ll look at how the Christmas ghost story is rooted in the ancient human tradition of telling tales to pass cold, dark winter nights and results from the grafting of a religious holiday onto a secular practice. Shakespeare and Marlowe discussed the practice in the play “A Winter’s Tale,” and in the Arthurian legend the otherworldly Green Knight appeared to Sir Gawain at Christmas time.   

Interest in the genre was especially keen in Victorian England, when increased literacy stemming from the rise of the middle class generated more demand for literature. It was a period in which seances were popular, spiritualist societies formed, and people picnicked in cemeteries. Add to that the era’s fantasies of destabilizing the powerful, and it’s easy to see why tales of spiritual visitation and of comeuppance from the beyond held such appeal. A ghost story was commonly featured in the low-cost anthologies of short fiction, known as “Christmas annuals,” published in England this time of year.  

We’ll become familiar with major figures in the genre, such as the medievalist scholar M.R. James, who is regarded as one of its best writers, Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and, more recently, contemporary authors like Stephen King.

Dr. Noble will tackle the question of why the practice has waned over time and never really caught on as much in the United States as it did across the pond. She’ll talk about efforts to revive it, and then regale us with a ghost story or two. You’ll find yourself hoping for a chance to tell a tale that frightens others gathered by fireplace during the holiday season. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)

Image from Pixabay.