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Title: Neo-Victorian cannibalism : a reading of contemporary neo-Victorian fiction
Author: Ho, Lai Ming
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis is about a body of contemporary neo-Victorian novels whose uneasy relationship with the past can be theorised in terms of aggressive eating, even cannibalism. Cannibalism operates on different levels throughout many works, and there is a sense of surreptitious insistence about it in the genre as a whole. Not only is the imagery of eating repeatedly used by critics to comprehend neo-Victorian literature, the theme of cannibalism itself also appears overtly or implicitly in a number of the novels and their Victorian prototypes, thereby mirroring the cannibalistic relationship between the contemporary and the Victorian. I argue that aggressive eating or cannibalism can be seen as a pathological and defining characteristic of neo-Victorian fiction. It provides a framework for understanding the genre’s origin, its conflicted, ambivalent and violent relationship with its Victorian predecessors and the grotesque and gothic effects that it generates in the fiction. Each chapter hinges on one type of ’cannibal’ through which the discussion of the theory of neo-Victorian cannibalism is elucidated. The first chapter investigates the phenomenon of incorporating the biographies of Victorian celebrities in neo-Victorian fiction. Using Gaynor Arnold’s Girl in a Blue Dress (2008) and Richard Flanagan’s Wanting (2008), I discuss how Charles Dickens and Sir John Franklin are portrayed as sexual and colonial Bluebeard cannibals, a form of representation which provides a revisionist critique of the misogynist, oppressive and racialist undercurrent of Victorian ideology. The second chapter examines the vampiric cannibal and analyses three neo-Victorian adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) - Tom Holland’s Supping With Panthers (1996), Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Dracula (2008) and Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Un-Dead (2009). In these works, the writers simultaneously cannibalise the original text and its author’s biography, and in so doing challenge Stoker’s authorial power and clear a creative space for themselves. In the third chapter, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) is read as an important intertext. The chapter studies the representation of Bertha, a character often portrayed in cannibalistic terms, in Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and three relatively recent neo-Victorian novels - Lin Haire-Sargeant’s H: The Story of Heathcliff’s Journey Back to Wuthering Heights (1992), D.M. Thomas’s Charlotte: The Final Journey of Jane Eyre (2000) and Emma Tennant’s Adele: Jane Eyre’s Hidden Story (2002). I argue that a narrative reorientation away from Bertha in the three later novels, which cannibalise both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, prompts us to reconsider the level of political engagementof the neo-Victorian genre. The fourth chapter centres on the ’academic cannibal’ and discusses the role of scholarly characters in neo-Victorian novels including A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990), Graham Swift’s Ever After (1992), A.N. Wilson’s A Jealous Ghost (2005), Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip (2006), Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr Y (2006) and Justine Picardie’s Daphne (2008). I argue that the use of scholars in these novels reflects a mutual dependence between the neo-Victorian genre and the academy, a relationship that can be viewed as both cannibalistic and competitive. Finally, the Conclusion speculates on how, under certain circumstances, the Victorian can be seen to cannibalise the contemporary and how the relationship between past and present will continue to evolve in the neo-Victorian genre.
Supervisor: McDonagh, Josephine ; Henderson, Ian Robert Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available