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2.18 - Nineteenth-Century British and American Gothic and the History of Slavery

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2020

Catherine Spooner
Affiliation:
Lancaster University
Dale Townshend
Affiliation:
Manchester Metropolitan University
Angela Wright
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

This chapter explores how slave insurrections in the Caribbean and West Indies throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries impacted upon British and American Gothic writing. In particular, it argues that the Gothic mode became, and remains still, haunted by an ever-present racialised discourse, one which reveals the horror of modernity’s constructions and their inheritances. From the nineteenth century onwards, Gothic texts not only ask what it means to be a (wo)man among the human race, but anxiously investigate the lie of racial difference. Examining texts by Charlotte Dacre, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Herman Melville and Florence Marryat, the chapter explores how the Gothic depicts acts of black rebellion in unequivocal tones of horror, and the extent to which their black (enslaved) characters assume the place of the utterly monstrous while also betraying anxiety over the blurry line separating blacks from whites. Such fictions, the argument holds, debate the justice of violent black revolution and express the concern that, while slavery itself may be responsible for the violence of the enslaved, slavery may in fact debase white subjects too.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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