Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
I recover the Gothic as a literature of political possibility. While scholars have long associated the Gothic tradition with political fear, I argue that Gothic novels challenge liberal ideas of the self to produce a sometimes radically egalitarian politics of freedom in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Edmund Burke made much of the fearfulness of an egalitarian politics in the 1790s, and literary historians have relied on his influence to argue that Gothic fiction is primarily an expression of the fear that comes with the collapse of familial, social, and political distinctions. But fear is not all that accompanies such breakdowns. The reemergence of biological arguments about the arbitrariness of species distinctions led many Gothic writers to view indistinction as a hopeful outcome of political revolution. For example, American novelist Charles Brockden Brown drew on natural history to present humans transforming into animals as a natural consequence of radical democratic equality; such transformations were not merely a specter of horror but a sign of hope. Similarly, the influence of American natural historians on Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley, helped them see that biological distinctions could be liberatory and bolstered their argument that social and political equality is natural. My dissertation reveals that political and biological arguments about the nature of the human were intimately interwoven at the turn of the nineteenth century. Together, these arguments allowed British and American authors--engaged with one another in a mutual project--to imagine a world in which biological indistinction is politically liberating. Such a world has been theorized most influentially by Donna Haraway, whose posthumanist philosophy informs the affirmative politics that I find in transatlantic Gothic fiction.
Chair and Committee
Guinn Batten, Iver Bernstein, Daniel Shea, Abram Van Engen, Rafia Zafar
Miller, Nicholas Everett, "Gothic Literature and the Politics of Indistinction" (2014). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 363.