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Gothic journeys: Imperialist discourse, the Gothic novel, and the European other

Charles M Bondhus, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In 1790s England, an expanding empire, a growing diaspora of English settlers in foreign territories, and spreading political unrest in Ireland and on the European continent all helped to contribute to a destabilization of British national identity. With the definition of “Englishperson” in flux, Ireland, France, and Italy—nations which are prominently featured in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797), and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)—could be understood, similar to England’s colonies, as representing threats to the nation’s cultural integrity. Because the people of these European countries were stereotypically perceived as being economically impoverished victims of political and “popish” tyranny, it would have been easy to construct them in popular and literary discourse as being both socially similar to the “primitive” indigenous populations of colonized territories and as uneasy reminders of England’s own “premodern” past. Therefore, the overarching goal of this project is twofold. First, it attempts to account for the Gothic’s frequent—albeit subtle—use of imperialist rhetoric, which is largely encoded within the novels’ representations of sublimity, sensibility, and domesticity. Second, it claims that the novels under consideration are preoccupied with testing and reaffirming the salience of bourgeois English identity by placing English or Anglo-inflected characters in conflict with “monstrous” continental Others. In so doing, these novels use the fictions of empire to contain and claim agency over a revolutionary France, an uncertainly-positioned Ireland, and a classically-appealing but socially-problematic Italy.

Subject Area

European history|European Studies|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Bondhus, Charles M, "Gothic journeys: Imperialist discourse, the Gothic novel, and the European other" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3409545.