Matthew Crofts and Janine Hatter, postdoctoral researchers in English Literature
Rats in the popular Gothic imagination are deeply potent animals. As the harbingers of the Black Death, they represent disease and dying – and their links to such a fundamentally medieval disease makes them repositories of the past: just as they scurried across people’s feet and spread illness in the dark ages, so do they still.
Rats feature heavily in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Rats, rats, rats! Hundreds, thousands, millions of them, and every one a life.”) as well as two pieces of his short fiction: ‘The Judge’s House’ (1891) and ‘The Burial of Rats’ (1914). Stoker used rats as symbols of hauntings, the dispossessed and decaying nature. These examples demonstrate that the ‘unkillable’, constantly present, often unseen urban rat has remained a powerful vehicle for delivering horror.