Drugs, Monsters, and the 19th Century

Staff Writer: Katy Martel
14 Nov. 2017

With Halloween not so far behind us, lovers of the spooky and monstrous are still in denial that celebrations are over. But fear not! You are being offered the opportunity to carry the spooky and monstrous with you into the spring semester.

The English Department is thrilled to highlight Professor Hannah Markley and her spring 2018 courses, The English Victorian Novel (ENG 336W) and Drugs & Monsters: Difference and Deviance in the Nineteenth Century (ENG 389W). While Markley always wanted to be an English professor, the interdisciplinary interests of psychopharmacology and literature were important aspects of her academic journey. Professor Markley spent her undergraduate studies in the exploration of literature and neuroscience at Kenyon College, which then led her to her master’s work in critical theory and literature of gender, sexuality, and depictions of drug use at the University of Sussex. These topics certainly manifested during her doctoral studies while she delved more into nineteenth-century literature and the connections between representations of drug use and monstrosity. These research topics and personal interests are visible in her course planning.

“I’ve actually wanted to teach Drugs and Monsters for a long time and designed the course about three years ago. The goal of the class was to use my own research interests to highlight the ways in which nineteenth-century literature negotiates and develops ideas about difference, criminality, and otherness that continue to inform contemporary debates about drugs and culture,” Professor Markley explained.

With such a passion and a well-rounded background, students should expect thoughtful selections in course material. Markley is most looking forward to teaching Thomas De Quincey, an influential figure whose essays scholars regard as the beginning of Western addiction literature. Professor Markley described De Quincey as, “one of those figures who could easily be our contemporary and who can tell us a lot about the representation of drugs in literature and by extension the cultural imaginary.”

With such an expertise on Victorian macabre, drug use, and monsters within the canon of literature, we thought it appropriate to ask Professor Markley about our own culture’s adaptations of the text. Around the Halloween season we thrive on the wide variety of adaptations on classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde, many of which take the canon into their own hands and have influenced common knowledge of the literature. For example, we call the monster Frankenstein when in actuality Frankenstein is the creator of the monster in the original text. Even Emory University’s theater presented the production “Midnight Pillow” inspired by Mary Shelley, as well as “The Anointing of Dracula: A Grand Guignol,” a rock musical inspired by the various adaptations of Dracula. Professor Markley’s spring courses clearly resonate with the culture of Emory University, and her thoughts on adaptations of the canon were illuminating.

“For my money, adaptations should have little or nothing to do with what we assume the source text says. I always feel like the most faithful adaptations somehow betray the original by taking it too seriously and misunderstanding the work of adaptation as a labor of translation,” Markley said before adding, “Walter Benjamin says any translation worthy of the name ought to allow us to see the original in a new way or generate a new insight into its significance. The same is true of adaptation.”

With such an exciting variety of interests and an intriguing course listing, we look forward to what Professor Markley sparks within her students during the spring semester.