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Traversing trauma and consuming perverse pleasures in the neo-Victorian novel.

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

This thesis focusses upon evidencing a pervasive contemporary interest in Victorian traumas and corporeal suffering as a means of examining the extent to which this interest manifests itself as a form of ‘perverse nostalgia’ - which proffers the ‘degraded’ past as a seeming nostrum for the taboo or prurient interests of a contemporary readership - within the neo-Victorian novel. Recognising perverse nostalgia as a distinct mode through which the neo-Victorian engages with the Victorian past while also reflecting upon and exploring a contemporary fascination with trauma and the wounded or suffering body, the forthcoming discussion reveals trauma itself to have become intertwined with a myriad of seemingly diffuse – but in fact intrinsically related – contemporary consumption practices relating to or featuring the corporeal; the erotic, or pornographic; the visual; and historical (trauma) ‘tourism’ and exploration, all of which feature as modes of consumer-centred exoticism in the neo-Victorian novel.
This revelation enables – and indeed compels – an assessment of the motivations for, and implications of, the exoticisation of historical traumas. Contributing an interdisciplinary perspective to a currently underexplored area in the field of neo-Victorian studies, and proffering an approach to the function of nostalgia in the neo-Victorian novel which departs from its traditional deployment and the negative connotations which frequently accompany the concept, this thesis examines the specific ways in which representations of historical traumas both facilitate and frustrate the exoticist desires of the reader, simultaneously working to summon and eschew their engagement with the ‘exoticised’ Victorian past. In doing so, this project illuminates how the neo-Victorian novel (or, more specifically, a set of texts which operate in critical and often subversive ‘obeisance’ to the late-Victorian adventure novel, and which I have termed the ‘neo-adventure’ novel) ‘imports’ contemporary anxieties, preoccupations, and concerns to its pages while representationally ‘exporting’ them into different historical moments, locations, and scenarios in the nineteenth-century. In this way, the ‘neo-adventure’ novel enables an exploration of prohibited, antithetic, or contentious subjects at a reassuring temporal remove, revealing ambiguities and problematic perspectives while also promoting consideration of the moral and ethical implications inherent to the literary appropriation of historically-situated traumatic representations themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateSep 2014
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