Making it right? Writing the other in postcolonial neo-Victorianism

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Van Dam, Hendrika
  • Subject: PN0441 | PN

This thesis examines the representation of ‘otherness’ in postcolonial neo-Victorian fiction. It analyses a selection of novels that not only engage critically with the Victorian past but specifically with the legacy of Victorian Britain’s empire. By looking at the ways in which neo-Victorian novels depict the (de)construction of their characters’ identities, this thesis investigates whether these representations are able to provide insight in present-day constructions of who is seen as being at home in British or Western European society and who is defined as ‘other’. Otherness, these novels show, is not limited to a binary of the Western ‘self’ and the stereotyped, non-Western ‘other’. Rather, many of the novels’ characters are made to discover the other(ness) within themselves. The introductory chapter considers neo-Victorianism’s postmodern background and the way it relates to postcolonial theories of race and sexuality. Chapter One focuses on two novels: Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George (2005) and Belinda Starling’s The Journal of Dora Damage (2007). Both novels are set in Britain and engage with the figure of the other coming (too) close to home. The chapter employs a potentially multidirectional ‘looking relation’ to study how postcolonial neo-Victorian fiction constructs the other against which the British characters define their own identities. Moving away from Britain, Chapter Two looks at the notion of the journey, specifically sea voyages between metropole and colony. Using Gail Jones’ Sixty Lights (2004) and Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (2002), this chapter studies how the liminal experience of travel can function as an othering device. Chapter Three, finally, examines how Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner (2002) and David Rocklin’s The Luminist (2011) describe British society in the colonies. Away from the imperial mother country, making stable distinctions between self and other becomes increasingly difficult for the novels’ characters. Ultimately, this thesis questions whether postcolonial neo-Victorianism maintains a binary between the Western self and a stereotyped figure of the other, or if it can play a role in changing readers’ views of those people seen as ‘other’ in Western society.
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