Taming a Monstrous Genre: Vexed Author-Figures and their Lethal Texts: 1719 to 1824
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
British Novel, Eighteenth Century, Gothic
Scholarly studies have established that the eighteenth and nineteenth-century English novel mixed conventions of various prose genres and was accused of morally corrupting its readers. To escape cultural disparagement, novelists tried to impose a didactic framework on their novels. However, such didacticism was undermined because the novel's generic hybridism opened it up to multiple interpretive lenses. I argue that working under such literary and cultural constraints, novelists were anxious about losing control over the interpretation and reception of their works. Analyzing seven novels, published between 1719 and 1824, Taming the Monstrous Genre asserts that these seven novelists channel their paranoia about losing interpretive control through vexed author-figures. As the century progressed, these author-figures became darker, employing more conniving measures to control their narratives and suffering graver consequences for their failure to do so. Eluding their interpretive control, their narratives became dangerous entities, terrorizing their creators and threatening their existences. I argue that these vexed author-figures eventually transformed into Gothic protagonists and the threat they experienced from their out-of-control narratives manifested itself in Gothic terror. Moreover, their menacing narratives found an exaggerated expression in the Gothic monster. Scholars have analyzed these Gothic elements through cultural, feminist, psychological and political lenses, but they have not connected them to the anxieties plaguing the novelists. By reviewing theories of monstrosity, I establish that the novel was a literary monster from its inception. Like monsters, it was a hybrid, which eluded a stable definition. And like a monster, the novel threatened its creator. I, therefore, assert that the novel's inherent monstrosity found a tangible expression in the Gothic monster. By connecting the literary and cultural anxiety of novelists to the emergence of Gothic elements in the novel, Taming the Monstrous Genre offers a new lens for studying the novel and the Gothic. This connection between the Gothic and the threats posed by the "monstrous" novel genre explains the survival and eventual explosion of the Gothic at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus this dissertation also opens up a new avenue for scholars exploring Gothic elements in Victorian novels.
Ray Choudhury, M. (2013). Taming a Monstrous Genre: Vexed Author-Figures and their Lethal Texts: 1719 to 1824 (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/70