Darryl Jones, dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, was born and raised in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales. He grew up in the 1970s, “a propitious time for anybody interested in horror”, “watching great, scary television” from Dr Who and M. R. James’ Ghost Stories for Christmas to Hammer House of Horror, and later Saturday-night double bills of classic horror films.
He studied at the University of York, staying on to do a PhD on the novels of Jane Austen. “English at York at the time was still heavily under the influence of F. R. Leavis, [which] gave me a very solid grounding in the literary canon.”
In his research career, he has ranged beyond canonical boundaries, uniting such seemingly diverse figures as Austen and H. P. Lovecraft. What, then, are the central concerns of his work? “If only I knew the answer to that question!” he replies.
“Perhaps the major argument I try to make for horror in Sleeping with the Lights On is that it is central to the history of human culture…also, it is a form of avant-garde art, and like all avant-garde art its real function is to test the limits of our tolerance – including our tolerance for what is and is not art.”
How would he go about persuading someone who has never bothered with horror fiction that they are missing out on something interesting and important? “I would also say that, at its best, horror is a cultural form that poses serious questions – about the state of your soul, the nature of evil, the reality of perception, the misery and consequences of marginalisation and inequality, extreme psychological states, the ethics of representation, the limits of tolerance, our attitudes to our bodies, how to live together in society, and much else besides.
“And even when it isn’t doing that for you, it can make you want to scream, or laugh, or puke. What’s not to like?”