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‘Tell it my own way’: Servant narratives in early Gothic literature

Hudson, Kathleen (2015) ‘Tell it my own way’: Servant narratives in early Gothic literature. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Early Gothic novels produced between 1764 and the 1800s developed the literary tropes and mechanisms which define an enduring and complex genre. As such, the ubiquitous servant characters in the British Gothic novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries play particularly important roles as highly self-conscious Gothic narrators and storytellers, roles which have not been fully acknowledged or explored within Gothic criticism. Servant characters ‘narrate,’ verbally and through a physical performance, stories and constructions of identity in the works of the most critical early Gothic writers, namely Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, and Charlotte Dacre. Such narratives deconstruct and interrogate social and personal identity through their manipulation of Gothic anxieties, and are critical to fully understanding the development of the Gothic genre. The earliest Gothic servant narrators, found in the works of Horace Walpole and Clara Reeve, help develop a new kind of ‘romance’ novel within a national literary identity. Later authors extend this further by casting servants as authorial metonyms who investigate the boundaries of the genre and techniques of Gothic storytelling. Ann Radcliffe demonstrates a conscious engagement with her servants as narrators, and her works provide great insight into the political, psychological, and literary potential of servant narratives. Matthew Lewis and Charlotte Dacre expand on these techniques by not only illustrating their characters’ authorial identities more overtly, but by also emphasizing their servants’ ability to create physical Gothic realities which correspond with their narrative goals. Thus servants within the Gothic literary tradition reflect generic goals by destabilizing hegemonic methods of ‘knowing’ and ‘performing’. They assert their own counter-narrative and therein compromise the identities of those around them. This dissertation will prove that Gothic servant narratives have a profound impact on readings of the individual texts, of the Gothic genre, and on narrative studies in general. This research will ultimately ensure that the Gothic servant narrative’s incorporation into developing literary criticism will open new doors for Gothic and literary studies, as well as providing significant insight into established areas of academic inquiry.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Kathleen Hudson
Date Deposited: 27 May 2016 14:07
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2016 11:12
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/12555

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