‘No More Let Life Divide…’

Victorian Metropolitan Confluence in Penny Dreadful

in Critical Survey


In Penny Dreadful, John Logan creates a ‘confluent’ and urban diegetic world which is characterized by the merging of dualities. While seamlessly bringing together characters from such classical works of Victorian Gothic fiction as Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dracula, and through the references by these characters to the Romantics such as Shelley and Blake, the series also provides a retrospective vision of the dark aspects of the urbanization of Victorian London. With reference to London’s representation in Penny Dreadful, this article explores the shaky ground of the metropolis that creates a duality in almost every other element of the show, including the representation of the city and its social realities, the identities of the characters, and the adaptation and ‘confluence’ of Victorian literary works in a single world that is paradoxically characterized by stark contrasts and dualities.

Since its premiere in May 2014, the Victorian pastiche, Gothic horror television series Penny Dreadful (Showtime / Sky Atlantic, 2014–) has had phenomenal success, which became evident in the immediate creation of a Penny Dreadful fandom of the ‘Dreadfuls’ in the social media.1 The show’s success was also appreciated institutionally by the awarding of three BAFTA Television Craft Awards in 2015 and its nomination for the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards in three categories again.2 Even though the professional award nominations seem to have acknowledged the quality of the visual effects, the prosthetic make-up, the theme music, and the lead actress Eva Green’s performance, we argue that the real appeal and the popularity of the show comes from its success in representing the urban Gothic genre, especially with reference to Gothic doubling.3 True to the Gothic’s ‘essentially betwixt-and-between nature’,4 Penny Dreadful creates what we would like to call a ‘confluent’5 and urban diegetic world which is characterized by the merging of dualities. In the most general sense, it is possible to observe three layers or orders of confluence in Penny Dreadful: first, the confluence of London/Demimonde; second, the confluence of the double (and sometimes multiple) selves of the characters; and third, the confluence of Romantic poetry and nineteenth-century Gothic fiction.

The first layer of confluence in Penny Dreadful results from the merging of a painfully metamorphosing late-Victorian London and the supernatural, terrifying, and malevolent world of the Demimonde, ‘a place in the shadows. Rarely seen but deeply felt’.6 As such, this confluent space is also the meeting point of the spiritual perils and horrors of the alienated urban characters. The accommodation of urban elements places London/Demimonde on the appropriate side of a major line of demarcation between the eighteenth-century and the Victorian examples of Gothic writing. For with the Victorian Gothic, ‘earlier Gothics [we]re replaced with something more disturbingly familiar: the bourgeois domestic world or the new urban landscape’.7

To be more precise, the nineteenth-century British Gothic fiction represented a shifting of the setting from the conveniently distant Catholic southern Europe8 to England and, perhaps more importantly, an urbanization of the genre as the Gothic writers of the century ‘lift[ed] the mode from the rural and plac[ed] it in London’.9

Accordingly, the protagonist of Penny Dreadful is London, a character with a double identity whose other name is Demimonde. In other words, London/Demimonde is a place between life and death, reminiscent of the sharp differences and the stark contrasts between the high and low societies of ‘“the metropolis”[,] as Victorians called it’.10 The producer Chris King explains the centrality of the city in the series, as well as its multifarious but essentially dual nature, by stating that ‘London is a character in Penny Dreadful, and it’s also really important for the audience to feel like the world of Penny Dreadful is all of these various places – it’s the low end and it’s also high society and everywhere in between’.11 To intensify the importance of London as a character that creates the core for all the other characters’ identities, almost all of the significant revelations that the characters have, and their key dialogues or monologues, are given in scenes that also foreground the images and the scenery of the city. For example, Victorian Metropolitan Confluence in Penny Dreadful 17 when Ethan Chandler questions himself as he sits in the Mariner’s Inn, his gaze is fixed on Tower Bridge; and when Proteus, Frankenstein’s second creature, starts to remember things from his past he looks at the sky from his inn and the next scene is completed with a view of London. Similarly, when Sir Malcolm reveals his better/human side in the soup kitchen, the trains, railways, and posters around the city are again the other elements that complete the scene; and when Frankenstein’s first creature goes out to look for a job, London’s poverty and child beggars accompany him in the scene. So, it follows that as the overarching order of confluence in Penny Dreadful, this shaky and oscillating ground of London/Demimonde creates dualities in almost every other element of the show.

Having such centrality and influence, the feature of duality as it relates to London/Demimonde seems to be deliberately established in the first episode of the show: a mysterious Vanessa Ives (acted by Eva Green) asks a seemingly stable American sharpshooter, Ethan Chandler, if he believes there is a Demimonde, a ‘half world between what we know and what we fear’;12 and the Victorian gentleman explorer type, Sir Malcolm Murray, offers employment to a young Dr Frankenstein with ‘poetic’ aspirations to be executed in ‘a place where science and superstition walk hand in hand’.13 These and many other dialogues and scenes in the later episodes re-create the metropolis in the aftermath of the industrial and scientific revolutions, and the imperial expansion14 towards alien lands, as a place in which ‘the twin poles of horror from the very personal and metaphoric, to completely literal with fangs and claws’,15 as Penny Dreadful’s creator and producer, John Logan, himself puts it, come to converge or flow in confluence.

Historically, these horrors were the results of the literally ‘splitting’ pains of the metamorphosis of London during the Victorian period. The split in London was two-fold: first, the separation of the place into the elite quarters like the West End and the poverty-stricken East End, especially the Shad Thames docklands; and second, the social realities of these respective spaces.16 In Penny Dreadful, the images of the elite quarters emerge from such places as Sir Malcolm’s highly elaborate mansion; The Explorer’s Club, frequented by esteemed adventurer-scientists; and Dorian Gray’s luxurious house decked with lavish furniture and dozens of portraits on the walls. The run-down areas in the East End, on the other hand, are represented by the Mariner’s Inn, which becomes the venue of an extraordinarily violent mass murder in one of the early episodes, and, most strikingly, by the underground soup kitchens, the refuge of the homeless and those devoured by lethal epidemics. The dual social realities and inequalities of Victorian London – the second split – stemmed mostly from a massive growth of its population. As a result of the nineteenth-century industrialization, there was a major movement of people and their destination was London, where the population grew from 2.3 million to 4.5 million between 1851 and 1911.17 As the actor Josh Hartnett, who plays Ethan Chandler, found out during his research before filming began, the consequences of this shift were appalling: ‘if you were not born very wealthy in London in the late 1800s, your life expectancy was about twenty-eight, and if you grew up in the country … [it was] in the sixties’.18 Official reports show that the life expectancy of Londoners approached that of the countryside dwellers only as late as 1939 with a figure of sixty-two years of age, and in 2015 life expectancy in London was eighty-two years.19 In other words, the Victorian metropolis was dominated by both life and death and therefore, as Ridenhour puts it, ‘determine[d] the form of the nineteenth-century urban Gothic … as wealth, culture, and industry interwoven with filth, poverty, and crime serve[d] as a ready-made symbol for the tension between perceptions of the modern and the primitive’.20

Clearly, Penny Dreadful powerfully depicts the dual social realities of late-Victorian London through the contrasting images of life and luxury in the West End, and those of death in the East End streets and in their residents’ everyday poverty. Nonetheless, London/ Demimonde as a single entity stands at the confluence of these spaces representing life and death, a meeting which is repeatedly suggested by way of juxtaposition through the view of the half-constructed Tower Bridge21 as it would have been seen from the docklands area. Especially as seen from the Mariner’s Inn, a mass murder site, the view of the Bridge also suggests that ‘[a]lthough the characters we get to know in Penny Dreadful are connected to a hazy “demimonde” that overshadows their lives, the metropolis as a real place ‘has plenty of perils of its own’.22 These perils haunt the characters in a London that can, by the crossing of a real and metaphorical bridge, easily become a demi-monde where evil and horror roam the streets. This is basically what John Logan means when he describes Penny Dreadful as ‘a show with … literal monsters and figurative monsters’.23

The East End prostitute character Brona Croft, who used to work at factories but had to take up prostitution when people were replaced by machines, is ‘representative of a side of life in London that the likes of Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives … could never truly understand’, as Sharon Gosling, the author of The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, suggests.24 Yet, during the city’s transformation even Brona’s East End is shifting. In season 2, episode 1, while the policemen are investigating the extraordinarily violent Mariner’s Inn Massacre, committed by Chandler when he was not his human self, they also talk about the rebuilding of the city. Owners of the inn want to build ‘tenement blocks’ instead and the police inspector comments as follows: ‘That’s a shame, more brick. Brick lasts longer, but without a character. Wood holds its history’. In other words, even the forgotten parts of London that belong to the ‘likes of’ Brona are losing their character and history due to urbanization. This permeation of the ‘brick’ part of the metropolis into the ‘wooden’ part is also suggestive of the loosening and the gradual dissolution of the boundaries between London’s two worlds. Accordingly, listing the evils of life ‘in the worst areas of the city, like the East End and Shad Thames’, Gosling also reminds us that in the Victorian age ‘those higher classes would not dream of venturing there without protection’.25 However, the characters in Penny Dreadful can travel between social and physical barriers as easily as they can travel spiritually. In fact, in the diegetic world of London/Demimonde both travels mean the same trip. In season 2, episode 2, for instance, Sir Malcolm invites Vanessa to accompany him to the underground soup kitchens where he works voluntarily to help the victims of the cholera epidemic and finds ‘a kind of peace’. As Sir Malcolm defines it, the soup kitchen is the embodiment of suffering ‘in the shadow of so much wealth’ and so his provision of funds and the actual work he does there whenever he can makes him ‘feel like a better man’.26 It is mainly in this sense that the soup kitchen scene constitutes a bottom line in Penny Dreadful, both metaphorically and literally. The soup kitchen is located right under a train station and so the noise and the shaking of the ground caused by the trains is ever present throughout the scene, in which broadsheet posters with myriad warnings about the epidemics also appear. The railways were a dominant aspect of the Victorian metropolis, ‘cover[ing] everything in soot’ and making up a large portion of the ‘filth and noise [that] characterized Victorian cities’.27 But in this particular scene, the railways come to mean more than ‘filth and noise’ and represent the crushing of the poor under the oppressive and devastating conditions of urban life, rendering ambivalent the positive connotations ascribed to urban and technological progress.

One last aspect of Penny Dreadful’s London that needs to be mentioned in the context of dualities is quite telling with reference to such ambivalence. As explained by Gosling, for certain logistical and practical reasons, the show was shot not in London ‘as originally intended’, but in Dublin.28 The end results of this change seem to have enhanced the particular image of Victorian London that the producers desired to create but could not have achieved in real London as the city had been transformed too much since the late-Victorian age. Gosling finds irony in the easier reproduction of the old metropolis by moving production to Ireland.29 However, it is possible to argue that even this shifting of the real production site adds to the Penny Dreadful universe a London that is one space formed by two places. That is to say, in the context of Penny Dreadful, the farther one moves away from London (for instance, into the Demimonde or into Dublin), the closer one gets to seeing the true face of the metropolis. In fact, such reconstruction of, say, the Thames Embankment from images shot at Dublin Castle creates a ‘confluence’ of London and Dublin.30

The second layer of confluence in Penny Dreadful, that consists of the double selves of the characters, is again a feature of the Victorian urban Gothic, where the split personalities are most of the time embodied in two different characters. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is perhaps the most obvious example of this Gothic doubling. However, in the metaphorical sense, this duality in the characters ‘is not simply a split that is at tissue but a more complex fragmentation of the subject’ in the context of late-Victorian Gothic writing.31 Capitalizing on this aspect of the late-Victorian urban Gothic, the main plot framework of Penny Dreadful creates a London/Demimonde roamed by characters with dual – or in some cases, multiple – personalities. The most powerful and the most encompassing source of the action in Penny Dreadful seems to be the ancient Egyptian deity Amun-Ra’s pursuit of his immortal, beloved queen, Amunet, who is reincarnated in Vanessa Ives, a Catholic woman with ‘a complicated history with the Almighty’,32 as she puts it in one of the later episodes of season 1. In fact, this pursuit is yet another element which places Penny Dreadful in the Gothic tradition, because despite its ‘focus on the contemporary … Gothic also offers a space in which the past can persist in a modified form’.33 Reflecting the Victorians’ fascination with Egyptology, which offered them ‘a way to fuse the era’s rapid move towards modernity with spirituality’,34 Penny Dreadful’s storyline begins in connection to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Such intrusion of a foreign and pagan past into the late-Victorian metropolis through this ancient manuscript not only creates a confluence of the past and the present in this ‘in-between’, Gothic universe, but is also powerfully symbolic and functional with regard to the characterization of London/Demimonde in its duality, as the Book of the Dead was ‘a group of transcribed magic spells intended to assist a dead person’s journey through the underworld and into the afterlife’.35 Moreover, as the storyline unfolds, the Egyptian origin of the Master is rendered ambivalent with the introduction of Lucifer as the Master; the Witches, also known as the ‘Nightcomers’, who are his agents; and a werewolf who turns out to be Lucifer’s most powerful rival because he is Lupus Dei, the Wolf of God. In such an eclectic and confluent world populated by both pagan and Judaeo-Christian entities or their derivatives, it becomes quite natural in Penny Dreadful that Amun-Ra’s agent pursuing Vanessa is a vampire, a being from eastern European folklore,36 on whose chest bones the prophetic Egyptian hieroglyphics are tattooed.

Just like her true ancient self, Amunet,37 Vanessa has a monster within her despite her outward innocence. In fact, according to the prophecy, she will become the mother of evil if she is united with the Master. So she is torn between life and death and good and evil. Yet, it is hard to tell which side of Vanessa is the evil one. For instance, it is when she is possessed by a demon during a séance that she reveals Sir Malcolm’s old sins and charges him for being a ‘child murderer’ and a ‘rapist’.38 In some other scenes, Vanessa inflicts morally justified punishment when she is possessed by her evil self. Thus, in a city like London, which William Blake described as a city where there was ‘blood down Palace walls’ in his Songs of Experience poem ‘London’,39 it is even better to be close to death, even better to be on the evil side, than to be oppressed and tortured by the vices of Victorian London. Commenting on the character Vanessa, Logan explains that ‘[i]t was important to [him] not to create a victim. … She has to be complicit in her own sin, in the wickedness that’s a part of her’.40 Accordingly, Vanessa has her own will and never yields to ultimate evil. In the last episode of season 2 when she finally meets with the Master, she refuses the temptation of his agent Madam Kali and says, ‘You have no power to tempt me, I have faced with more cruel eyes than yours’. Then the Master in the shape of Vanessa’s puppet says, ‘Then face mine, face yourself … know yourself’, which again shows the duality of her character, and the scene becomes the ultimate portrayal of the clash between her contrasting but confluent identities.

Just like the British metropolis into which he arrives as an alien, Ethan Chandler is a metamorphosist, a werewolf. Beyond its metaphorical implications, the lycanthropy of Ethan is functional in Penny Dreadful with regard to the dualities that have been explained so far for two reasons. First, the werewolf as a concept, just like the vampire, creates yet another instance of the intrusion of eastern European horrors into the heart of London, just as was the case in late-Victorian urban Gothic; and second, it represents – especially with reference to Lupus Dei turning out to be the deadliest fighter against the vampires – the duality and ambiguity of good and evil, because in the folkloric origins of the two beings they were not imagined to be completely different from one another. For instance, in Slavic regions ‘many names initially used for werewolves came to be applied to the undead’, and in Greece the belief was that ‘anyone who ate a sheep slain by a wolf would return as a vampire’.41

Nevertheless, just like Vanessa, he suffers because of the things he does when he is under the control of his other, violent self. Running from his past in America, the divine plan ironically brings him to London, to realize his true self as Lupus Dei. Identified as a man ‘of great violence and hidden depths’ by Vanessa in the very first episode of the series, the literal duality of Ethan’s personality is, at the metaphorical level, a reflection of his ‘existential conflict’42 and the ‘dichotomies he negotiates’43 as a late-Victorian alien urban subject. Moreover, the complexity of his character can also be traced in the nature of the Buffalo Bill re-enactment show he is performing when he is first introduced in the first episode. As Gosling suggests, Buffalo Bill himself was ‘a mixture of reality and fiction’,44 and so is Ethan Chandler/Werewolf, which corresponds to the renewed understandings of human identity in the late-Victorian period that soon became a part of the Gothic convention.

The young Dr Frankenstein is arguably the most prolific of Penny Dreadful’s characters when it comes to accommodating more than one personality. In his case, it is possible to extend the discussion into quadruple selves. Without a doubt, Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein can be read as a major literary response to the scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment, which ‘aggravate[d] a sense of alienation’ and ‘disturbed notions of human identity’.45 Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein is obsessed with the origins of life and projects his own modern, urban, existential suffering onto the Creature which he makes. Penny Dreadful’s reinterpretation of the young scientist also depicts him in pursuit of ‘Life and death. … The flicker that separates one from the other’.46 However, in the Demimonde, Dr Frankenstein is an admirer of death and of the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats. His love of death comes from his belief that death is the only means to eternal life. Dr Frankenstein’s deep belief also guides his actions and in a key scene in the show he names his third creature (whose former name, Brona, means ‘sadness’ in Gaelic) Lily, the flower of resurrection and rebirth. That is to say, in London/Demimonde, death means life and vice versa. Similarly, Dr Frankenstein’s inquiry into what it means to be human is projected onto the creatures, two male and one female, whom he brings back from the dead. His second male creature, Proteus, who is introduced to the audience before the first one, seems to represent the erratic, changeable, and helpless nature of man just like the shape-shifting sea god he is named after. The first creature, who eventually adopts the name of the Romantic poet John Clare, becomes the voice of the modern man’s frustration, especially when he describes London as a ‘steel-hearted city’ and when he asks Frankenstein ‘What am I but an extension of you? All your sin emptied into me. I am your other half, your truest self’.47 In addition to the fact that Dr Frankenstein’s ‘progeny’ create his quadruple self, his creatures have dual personalities within themselves as well. For instance, with reference to John Clare, Logan explains that the Creature ‘is very fragile in terms of his psychology, how he is with other people. But equally, he can be vicious and prone to violence. He is literally pieced together and he is trying to unpick who those different elements of him are’.48 Likewise, apart from being the future of a new race, Frankenstein’s last creature, Lily, becomes an agent for the expression and criticism of social injustice and abuse, especially as experienced by women in Victorian London, and sets out for retribution. Eventually, in the final episode of season 2, all three creatures surround Frankenstein, who is imprisoned by Madam Kali in a magical, hallucinatory chamber to face his sins and crimes as the modern man. In short, London/Demimonde does not let the characters live without being alienated, sick, alone, cursed, and in between.

The internal doubling, or quadrupling in the case of Dr Frankenstein, of the Penny Dreadful characters is obviously an effect of the urban Gothic genre in which the production is firmly set. In this sense, the confluence of the double or multiple selves of the characters also flows alongside yet another layer of confluence in Penny Dreadful, that of the Gothic novel and Romantic poetry. As Victoria Nelson points out, the current critical approach to these ‘two literary movements/sensibilities’ acknowledges that together they ‘actually made up a single continuum’.49 Similarly, in their survey of the genre’s history, Punter and Byron comment on this similarity by pointing out that Blake was ‘concerned with a way of articulating the effects of social and political repression, Coleridge … [was] more concerned with finding correlatives for his personal psychological predicament, his melancholia’,50 and Shelley used ‘the portrayal of extreme, “wild,” violent situations’ to convey the message that ‘social violence is the product of social injustice’.51 Apparently, the approximation of the two modes, later to form a continuum, became a lot more visible in the nineteenth century as Romanticism gained maturity and the Gothic experienced a shift, in response to the rapid urbanization of England and the anxiety-ridden social psychology attached to this transformation. Historically, the popular literary reflections of the anxieties and horrors of the urbanized metropolis were disseminated among the masses in the form of ‘penny dreadfuls’. Accordingly, John Logan seems to have followed the same trajectory during the ten years when he was developing the idea for the ‘Penny Dreadful’ that he was writing: ‘Ten years ago I was reading a lot of Wordsworth, which led to Byron, Keats, Shelley, and finally to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. All that poetry and those two great cornerstones of Gothic literature set me thinking about a new story’.52 Accordingly, in Penny Dreadful when young Dr Frankenstein quotes from Percy Shelley’s ‘Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’ by demanding ‘No more let Life divide what Death can join together’,53 the scene not only depicts the modern scientist expressing his ambitions about the prospect of a human being ‘replaced by an automaton manufactured from fragments’,54 but also forms one of the many examples of the confluence of the Gothic novel and Romantic poetry in the series.

The Gothic is still relevant in our day due to the genre’s ‘uncanny ability to adapt over time to radically different social and cultural matrices’55 and the popularity of Penny Dreadful, itself an adaptation, is evidence of the genre’s persisting relevance. In her analysis of the Gothic, Nelson comments on this adaptive ability of the genre with reference to Robert Bork’s study of medieval cathedral ground plans by stating that ‘[m]uch as each level of a fourteenth-century Old Goth cathedral replicates itself geometrically from the one beneath it in an infinitely divisible fractal sequence, the Gothick has kept on reproducing its overarching form’.56 Similarly, by adapting and seaming together its Gothic literary sources that are inherently adaptive as such, and by presenting powerful ‘confluent’ stories of alienation, ‘walking alone’, and ‘the need for love’ that are still very relevant to modern urban audiences who are constantly in need of new spiritualities, Penny Dreadful adds yet another fractal sequence to the Gothic tradition.


An earlier version of this article was presented with the same title by the authors on 25 September 2015 at the 10th Annual Association of Adaptation Studies Conference, ‘Adaptations and Metropolis’, organized by the Association of Adaptation Studies and the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, at Senate House, London on 24–25 September 2015.


The categories for which Penny Dreadful was awarded/nominated in these and other events are listed on the Internet Movie Database web page ‘Penny Dreadful – Awards’ at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2628232/awards/.


The show’s ‘contribution to the survival of gothic narrative by turning everything upside-down’ and its ‘seamless bringing together of material from different literary sources’ were among the main reasons cited for voting for Penny Dreadful in a survey asking around one hundred adaptation studies scholars, participating in the 10th Annual Association of Adaptation Studies Conference: ‘Adaptations and Metropolis’, to state ‘a favourite all-time and recent (within 10 years) adaptation’. For the other aspects of the show praised by respondents, see the announcement on the Association’s website at: http://www.adaptation. uk.com/10th-annual-association-of-adaptation-studies-conference/.


Jerrold E. Hogle, ‘Introduction: The Gothic in Western Culture’, in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E. Hogle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 17.


In this article, the metaphor of the ‘confluence’ – that is, the flowing together of two streams of water as a single but heterogeneous body – is used primarily to refer to various dualities accommodated in a single entity such as a city, a character etc. However, this usage of the term is only one example of the larger potential we attribute to the metaphor in understanding the relationship between source texts, adaptations, and contexts which permeate into, define, complement, or build upon one another to form a unified whole even though they are seemingly different entities. Therefore, here we also formally suggest ‘confluence’ as a new terminological tool for the field of adaptation studies which previously benefited from the deployment of similar analogies. One such term, ‘rhizome’, was introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their introduction to A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), in their discussion of the nature of a book and the relationship between the book and the world. Deleuze and Guattari’s analogy of the rhizomatic relationship, especially as exemplified by the rhizome formed by the ‘wasp and orchid’ and their ‘becoming’ of one another (10), was employed with reference to the relationship between a source text and an adaptation in the film Adaptation (2002) directed by Spike Jonze. In adaptation studies research, Douglas Lanier, for example, adopted the concept of the rhizome as part of his discussion of Shakespeare’s works and their popular adaptations such as teen Shakespeare movies (see Douglas Lanier, ‘Recent Shakespeare Adaptation: Mutations of Cultural Capital’, Shakespeare Studies 38 (2010), 104–13). Yet another metaphor, that of the ‘palimpsest’, was introduced by Gerard Genette in his 1982 study of ‘hypertextuality’ as ‘any relationship uniting a text B … to an earlier text A … upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary’ (see Gerard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 5). Though we also acknowledge the functionality of the ‘rhizome’ and the ‘palimpsest’ in accounting for the structural and hyper-, trans-, and inter-textual qualities of adaptations as texts and their relationships with source texts, our contention is that the theoretical discussions in adaptation studies may also benefit from new terminology that is able bring into the debate the ‘fluidity’ that is a characteristic of adaptations and their dialogic relationships not only with other (source) texts but also with their own contexts. The term ‘confluence’ as we conceive it, to illustrate it with further examples from Penny Dreadful again, can express the fluidity that makes possible the utterance of Wildean witticisms in Dorian Gray’s ‘dialogs’ as the ‘confluence’ of the author and the character, and the existence of more than one Creature in the Frankensteinian universe to correspond to the dual nature of London/Demimonde as the ‘confluence’ of the literary source and the adaptation. Penny Dreadful, which may also be seen as a representative of many other adaptations with multiple textual and contextual sources, offers numerous examples of this ‘confluence’, but they cannot be discussed within the limits of an endnote. However, other occurrences of such ‘confluence’ will be drawn attention to in this article in engaging the relevant textual examples as part of the central discussion.


John Logan, ‘Night Work’, Penny Dreadful (Showtime / Sky Atlantic, 2014–), s1e1, first aired 11 May 2014.


David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 26.


Compare the geographical setting of classic eighteenth-century Gothic novels such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796).


Jamieson Ridenhour, In Darkest London: The Gothic Cityscape in Victorian Literature (Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, 2013), 2.


H.C.G. Matthew, ‘The Liberal Age (1851–1914)’, in The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, ed. Kenneth O. Morgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 474.


Quoted in Sharon Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful (London: Titan Books, 2015), 14.


Logan, ‘Night Work’.


Logan, ‘Night Work’.


The images of foreign/alien horrors and mysteries intrude into the late-Victorian Gothic fiction through the particular sub-genre that came to be known as the ‘imperial Gothic’, a typical example of which is Henry Rider Haggard’s novel She (1886). Since the mainstream Gothic tradition of the period was preoccupied with the urban centre of the Empire, Gothic images from the colonial periphery were featured not for their own sake, but only to reinforce the portrayal of the insecurity of urban life. Similarly, Penny Dreadful exploits ‘foreign’ Gothic elements especially through the character of Sir Malcolm Murray, who is haunted by his dark and criminal past as an explorer in Africa. Even though the only explicitly literary source of the Malcolm Murray character is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, through his daughter Mina (Murray) Harker, Haggard’s famous protagonist Allan Quatermain may be considered as a possible influence as well, both because of the nature of Haggard’s imperial romances that accommodate Gothic elements and as a result of the inevitable mental association between the pastiche structure of Penny Dreadful and the 2003 film production The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which also brought together characters such as Allan Quatermain, Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde within a single fictional universe. An observation about Haggard’s Allan Quatermain being a possible literary source of Sir Malcolm Murray was also made by Graham Holderness at the 10th Annual Association of Adaptation Studies Conference: ‘Adaptations and Metropolis’. As a matter of fact, the mental coupling of Malcolm Murray and Allan Quatermain (even though the former is also connected to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness through his suffering from ‘The horror!’ which originates in Africa but haunts him in the metropolitan ‘heart of darkness’) is another instance of ‘confluence’ in Penny Dreadful. A more obvious ‘confluence’ in this particular inevitable but fluid association is the flowing together of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Penny Dreadful as mutually informative metatexts.


Quoted in Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 38.


The urban Gothic was, of course, responsive to these social realities. Accordingly, one distinctive function of the nineteenth-century Gothic novel was to ‘reflect the social instability and mobility of its age’ through the ‘extremely painful and unhappy’ experiences of the heroes and heroines (see Alev Baysal’s ‘The Gothic Hero as “the Other”: A Study of Social Displacement in the Gothic Novel’, in Bati Edebiyatinda Kahraman [The Hero in Western Literature], ed. Ertuğrul İşler, Meryem Ayan, Cumhur Yilmaz Madran, Yavuz CÇelik Mehmet Ali Çelikel, and Şeyda İnceogğlu (Ankara: Pamukkale Üniversitesi, 2010), 14).


Matthew, ‘The Liberal Age’, 474.


Quoted in Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 32.


‘London’s Population Hits 8.6m Record High’, BBC News, 2 February 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-31082941/ (accessed 14 September 2015).


Ridenhour, In Darkest London, 1.


Historically, the construction of Tower Bridge was completed in 1894 – that is, three years after the time in which the storyline of Penny Dreadful begins – and it became one of the universally recognized symbols of London. Therefore, in addition to the function of the ‘bridge’ metaphor as a construction that both unites and divides two places at the same time, the repeated use of Tower Bridge in Penny Dreadful can be interpreted as a reminder of London’s centrality as the spatial dimension of the action in the episodes.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 29.


Quoted in Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 38.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 28.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 28.


John Logan, ‘Verbis Diablo’, Penny Dreadful, s2e2, first aired 10 May 2015.


Matthew, ‘The Liberal Age’, 474.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 32.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 33.


The pictures showing the reconstruction of the Embankment at Dublin Castle are available in Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 13.


Punter and Byron, The Gothic, 41.


John Logan, ‘What Death Can Join Together’, Penny Dreadful, s1e6, first aired 15 June 2014.


Punter and Byron, The Gothic, 29.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 52.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 68.


For an extended account of the cultural and etymological origins of the vampire, see Matthew Bunson, The Vampire Encyclopedia (New York: Gramercy Books, 2000), 262–64.


In the Hermopolitan system of Egyptian mythology, Amunet was a snake-headed goddess of ‘mystery, the hidden … or nothingness, who represented the invisible but active breath of the life-giving air’, as described by B. van de Valle (see B. van de Valle, ‘Egypt: Syncretism and State Religion’, in Larousse World Mythology, ed. Pierre Grimal (London: Hamlyn, 1965), 32). She was also associated with death and the underworld, thereby blurring the boundary between life and death, and good and evil.


John Logan, ‘Séance’, Penny Dreadful, s1e2, 18 May 2014.


William Blake, ‘London’, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. M.H. Abrams et al., 6th edn, Vol. 2 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1993), 39.


Quoted in Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 124.


Bunson, The Vampire Encyclopedia, 279–80.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 19.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 20.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 23.


Punter and Byron, The Gothic, 20.


Logan, Night Work’.


John Logan, ‘Resurrection’, Penny Dreadful, s1e3, first aired 25 May 2014.


Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 150.


Victoria Nelson, Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 4.


Punter and Byron, The Gothic, 15.


Punter and Byron, The Gothic, 16.


John Logan, ‘Foreword’, in Gosling, The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, 6.


Logan, ‘What Death Can Join Together’.


Punter and Byron, The Gothic, 20.


Nelson, Gothicka, 5.


Nelson, Gothicka, 5.

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Contributor Notes

Sinan Akilli currently works at the Department of English Language and Literature, Hacettepe University, Turkey, where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in British Cultural Studies in 2001 and 2005, respectively. After spending about four years in the U.S. as an independent scholar, from 2009 to 2011 he worked at Aksaray University in Turkey as the founding chair of the Department of Western Languages and Literatures. Among his most recent publications are a book chapter entitled ‘Sir Henry Rider Haggard: An Early Ecocritic?’ in The Future of Ecocriticism: New Horizons (2011), Late Victorian Imperial Adventure Novel (2011), which is the book version of his doctoral dissertation, and Asil Hayvanlar (2015), which is a Turkish translation of Donna Landry’s Noble Brutes: How Eastern Horses Transformed English Culture (2008). His current research focuses on the Victorian novel, the gothic novel, adaptation studies, nineteenth-century travel literature, early modern English popular culture and literature, and more recently, animal studies.

Seda Öz received her B.A. degree in English Language and Literature from İstanbul University in 2012. She received her M.A. degree in British Cultural Studies in 2015 from Hacettepe University with the thesis entitled ‘A Bakhtinian Analysis of Robinsonades: Literary and Cinematic Adaptations of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe’. Currently she is continuing her Ph.D. studies at the Department of Communication Sciences, Hacettepe University.