The monstrous economy
: guilt & culpability in representations of the British working classes, 1800-1901

  • Eilís L. Phillips

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    A cacophony of monstrous voices vied for the attentions of the nineteenth-century reader. Some of these monstrosities were understood to be wholly fictional; macabre characters who peopled works of literature, or short, serial stories published in periodicals. Figures such as Frankenstein’s creature, Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, and Sweeney Todd the demon barber from ‘The String of Pearls’ – now known for their literary celebrity – existed alongside more anonymous and ephemeral characters, such as the multitudinous depictions of fairies in newspapers during the period. Beyond these overtly fictional characters lurked stereotypes which hovered awkwardly between the realms of tangible reality and horrific fantasy. Here, one finds the monstrous economy, a network of ideas and identities which underpinned middle-class caricatures of working people, drawing inspiration from Gothic fiction, fairy tales and pre-extant folklore narratives together. These became ghoulish vignettes of the working class in action, whether depicting arsonists as demons, comparing domestic servants to goblins, miners to the living dead, or sailors to cannibals. Analysis of this monstrous economy exposes a desire to deflect implications of middle-class guilt and culpability in the sufferings and grievances of the working class. Studies of literary monstrosity are prolific. This thesis diverges from these familiar paths in probing the diverse and underexplored pantheon of monstrosity found in newspaper and government reports, and in printed ephemera. It presents an innovative and original argument for the creation and exchange of such stories as a diffuse network of ‘othering’ increasingly drawn upon by authors throughout the century. This thesis uses five case studies in order to reveal the workings of the monstrous economy: monstrous environments; diabolical identities; fairy forms; mining monstrosities, and cannibal contagions. Exploration of these monstrous archetypes, as vehicles for the mitigation of guilt, advances understandings of the history of monstrosity, class, and space, and of the complex interplay between these identities during the nineteenth century.
    Date of AwardSept 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorKarl Bell (Supervisor), Brad Beaven (Supervisor) & Mike Esbester (Supervisor)

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