Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 July 2020
The eighteenth century saw a change in British readers’ sense of their place in the world. In the first half of the century, England – and later Britain – tended to imagine itself as the vulnerable but freedom-loving object of historical and contemporary global empires, engendering early Gothic images of tyrannical violence and ghostly resistance. However, the last decades of the century brought home news of war in America, the conquests of the East India Company and the vast horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. Britons were forced to begin to confront their own resemblance to the imperial tyrants against whom they had previously defined themselves. The Gothic became a means of articulating and managing the shock of this resemblance. In a wide range of genres, from stage pantomimes and Oriental novels to political speeches and abolitionist tracts, familiar discourses of Gothic oppression were combined with images and narratives of global cultural difference and colonial violence. Whether written overtly to promote or to oppose imperial expansion, these texts often diverted feelings of disquiet about the British empire onto its victims around the world.
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