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Chapter Six - “Here we are, again!”: Neo-Gothic Narratives of Textual Haunting, from Peter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem to The Limehouse Golem

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2022

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Summary

For over forty years contemporary English author, biographer and popular historian Peter Ackroyd, CBE FRSL, has produced a vast collection of writing that can be broadly classified as neo-historical because of his insistent return to the past and its texts within his own, but it is worth noting that many of his works are concerned with or clearly influenced by the nineteenth century in particular and often referenced in neo-Victorian scholarship. For instance, Dana Shiller employs Ackroyd's Chatterton (1987) alongside A. S. Byatt's Possession (1990) to exemplify one of the earliest definitions of the neo-Victorian as “texts that revise specific Victorian precursors, texts that imagine new adventures for familiar Victorian characters, and ‘new’ Victorian fictions that imitate nineteenthcentury literary conventions” (1997, 558). Shiller argues that in Chatterton, Ackroyd created “a postmodern novel that plays on (and with) our certainties about history while simultaneously delighting in what can be retrieved of the past” (540; emphasis in original), which is the quintessence of a neo-Victorian text as Shiller proceeds to then define it. In addition to Ackroyd's neo-Victorian Gothic novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (2007 [1994])—the focus of this chapter's analysis—and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (2008), which is also set in nineteenth-century London, other works by Ackroyd such as The Great Fire of London (1993a [1982]), The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1993b [1983]) and English Music (1992) have similarly attracted the attention of neo-Victorian scholars for they, too, seem to channel the famous voices of the age in the ways Shiller describes. The Great Fire of London, for example, is set in 1980s London but the city Ackroyd portrays is heavily reminiscent of Dickens’ own, as the lives of the characters are haunted by the world of Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857), none more so than Audrey Skelton who actually believes she has been possessed by the spirit of Dickens’ character Amy Dorrit. Ackroyd takes the neo-Victorian metaphor of providing the Victorians with a new voice even further in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde by creating a conscious pastiche of the voice of Oscar Wilde through the first-person reflections and confessions of his (fictional) deathbed diary, thus raising the postmodernist concern with the (in)authenticity of our attempts to recapture the past in a playfully self-reflexive way.

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Neo-Gothic Narratives
Illusory Allusions from the Past
, pp. 91 - 108
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2020

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