Discourses of Carnival and transgression in British and Caribbean writing, 1707-1848
This thesis is an analysis of the cultural relationship between Britain and the Caribbean from the eighteenth century through to the mid-nineteenth century. It is organised around the concept, considered both as an historical practice and a metaphor. Using a variety of literary sources such as diaries, historical documents, as well as poetry, drama and canonical literary texts by Lady Maria Nugent, Matthew Lewis, James Thomson, Daniel Defoe and William Beckford, the thesis develops the argument that British identity was consolidated through the rejection of an authentic metropolitan Carnival culture in favour of a constructed national profile, predicated on Protestantism and imperialism. This is contrasted with the way in which the Caribbean was framed within the parameters of Carnival and was described within a burgeoning discourse of monstrosity and fear. The thesis discusses the origins of this image of the Caribbean as a site of Carnival and moral transgression, examining how groups such as the sugar planter, pirates and slaves established the islands as corrupt, uncontrolled and antithetical to Britishness. It also highlights the centrality of the Caribbean, not only for imperial commerce, but significantly, establishes the way the Caribbean becomes a cultural repository of Carnival for Britain during the period under study. The discussion demonstrates how the Caribbean becomes a powerful symbol conflating Carnival excess and hedonism with fears regarding the fragility of Britishness as a constructed identity. It develops this by exploring the Caribbean subtext in Romantic and Gothic fictions, investigating how the symbol evolves in the period under focus from an implicit threat in canonical texts such as Jane Austen's Mansfield Park to a more explicit symbol of fear, as exemplified by Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte's text Jane Eyre.