Imperial/Colonial Subject Matter
One point of English anxiety explored in the Gothic is the incongruity between the xenophobia of the English people and the British imperialist urge. While the development of colonies fed the English economy, it also opened doors to foreign ideas and led to such disasters as the American War of Revolution. It also forced the English to grapple with their own ideas of humanity as their government and commercial enterprises participated in the subjugation of diverse peoples. The chapbooks History of Zoa and Henrietta de Belgrave are concerned with some of these difficult topics; specifically interracial marriage and cultural conflict. Other fictions, such as Charlotte Smith's Story of Henrietta (1800), more directly exploited the fear of the racial 'other' in the colonies. Smith's novella, which is set in Jamaica, depicts the terror experienced by a white heroine who experiences the threat of rape by a black man, and is subjected to the magical interventions of an Obeah practitioner. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), portrays the Caribbean character Bertha Rochester as a monster to be locked away and kept secret by her English husband. As late as 1899, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was deeply infused with xenophobia, racism, and the heavily repressed fear that perhaps 'primitives' are not so different from ourselves. Strangely, although the Gothic view of the imperial project was so fearful, it often presented foreign landscapes and people with a romanticized exoticism which evoked the uncanny.
Postcolonial Responses to Gothic Imperialism/Colonialism
Some particularly powerful examples of "the empire writing back" have been inspired by the xenophobic horror of Gothic novels. Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, renames Bertha from Jane Eyre Antoinette, and casts her as the heroine of the story. Antoinette's husband's rejection of her is directly linked with her Creole heritage in Rhys' book, which thereby presents a critique of the British view of colonized people. Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of my Mother similarly revises Wuthering Heights. Even when not responding directly to a Gothic novel, postcolonial fiction tends to draw upon the Gothic tradition; perhaps because the two have so much in common. Both are transgressive and subversive. Both present alternative versions of history, accentuate otherness, challenge accepted ontology and epistemology, blur boundaries and explore liminal spaces. It is entirely possible that what we term 'magical realism' reflects the Gothic influence on postcolonial literatures.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
Ashcroft, Bill; Griffiths, Gareth; Tiffin, Helen. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and practice in post-colonial literatures. London; New York: Routledge, 1989. Print.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Project Gutenberg. gutenberg.org, 9 June 2015.
Kincaid, Jamaica. The Autobiography Of My Mother. New Yor : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996. Print.
Mulvey-Roberts, Marie. The Handbook of the Gothic. New York: New York University Press, 2009. Print.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York : Norton, 2001. Print.
Smith, Charlotte. The Story of Henrietta. Kansas City: Valancourt Books, 2012. Print.
See also: eighteenth century.