Watching the Watchman
: Misdirection and Complicity in a Neo-Victorian Novelist’s Underworlds

  • William George Sutton

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis links my three Campbell Lawless Victorian mystery novels to form my submission, based on my creative practice, for PhD by Publication. My trilogy subverts expectations of neo-Victorian and crime genres, to amaze and appal with subterranean marvels and traumas. Through Gothic dualities and polyphony, they create multilayered misdirections. These coerce readers into complicities with otherness, which discomfitingly reflect today’s systemic injustices.
    Written between 2002 and 2017, the novels were published by Titan Books. I have discussed them in interviews, workshops and book groups, and performed from them in festivals. Although my creative processes were instinctual, this commentary shows the three books united in compositional methods, historiographic sources, narrative strategies, and moral ambivalence.
    The books repurpose traces of real Victorian trauma to shock readers out of complacent expectations. They use lesser-known psychogeography and subterranea to revitalise familiar fictionalisations of London’s underbelly. Each book adapts narratological strategies from specific Victorian fictions. I redeploy undervalued techniques of misdirection in Gothic and Sensation fiction, unleashing vexing complicity on unsuspecting readers, as on the characters. Coerced into sympathy with the monsterised and transgressional, readers confront reflections of today’s ignominies: radicalisation, technological and sexual exploitation; manipulative media, xenophobia, post-colonial backlash; the costs of progress.
    With the freedom afforded by distance, my historiographic metafictions present systemic injustices, interrogating today’s crises through Victorian societal traumas. The books betoken post-traumatic growth, yet re-enact the systemic denials that suppress redemptive acknowledgement.
    Date of Award23 Mar 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorKarl Bell (Supervisor)

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