Victorian Gothic Materialism: Realizing the Gothic in Nineteenth-Century Fiction
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This project begins by asking why so many realist novels of the Victorian period also exhibit tropes borrowed from the eighteenth-century gothic romance—its locales, characters, and thematics. While theorizations of realism and of the gothic are plentiful, most studies consider them to be essentially opposed, and so few attempts have been made to explain why they frequently coexist within the same work, or what each figural mode might lend to the other. This dissertation addresses this deficit by arguing that gothic hauntings interpolated into realist fictions figure socio-economic traumas, the result of uneasy, uneven historical change. Realism's disinterested, empiricist epistemology made it ideal for examining relationships between individuals and social processes, especially the marketplace and public institutions against and through which the modern subject is defined. The gothic's emphases on hidden forces and motives, therefore, became the ideal vehicle for novelists to express anxieties surrounding the operation of these social and economic processes, especially the fear that they are somehow rigged or malevolent. The gothic mode is by definition historiographical, and its haunting returns stage conflicts between the values of a despotic past and those of an ostensibly enlightened present. Realism, often understood as the investigation of social reality, also develops within its narrative a causal model of history. This is required for the sequence of events it narrates to be understandable in their proper contexts and indeed for whole meaning(s) to emerge out of the sum of disparate incidents depicted. Gothic materialist texts, therefore, are obsessed with time and its changes and especially how aspects of competing forms of bureaucracy and modes of capital and exchange determine and confront the modern subject.