Within the field of ethnicity studies, xenophobia is commonly defined as a ‘disproportionate and unconscious reaction to danger (posed by those perceived as foreign) that is often imagined, and which leads to illogical and uncontrollable behavior.’ Given that the Gothic is concerned with persons and objects that induce terror, it is no surprise that Gothic texts obsess over the specter of the foreign Other, particularly when the real or imagined presence of this Other threatens, as it tends to do, the realm of established civility, knowledge, and order. Though there is an extensive body of scholarship on the operation of xenophobic discourses in literature, theoretical approaches are invariably indebted to the work of Edward Said, whose study of Western construction of the Orient concluded that Orientalism, as a hegemonic discourse, was a means by which the Oriental Other could be dominated. That is, fabricating knowledge about the Orient through Orientalist discourse served to legitimize and authorize dominating imperial projects. Though Said’s study is primarily concerned with East Asia and the Middle East, his theoretical grounding enables students of the Gothic to examine how the Gothic mode was employed to construct a range of foreign, usually racialized, Others for the purposes of stabilizing systems of authority. In the Gothic, the foreign Other is constructed as an object of horror or terror, an insidious presence that often threatens to destroy social and political order, corrupt culture, and contaminate racial purity. Indeed, the foreign Other is an essential component of national self-definition, whether this Other is a visitor or an invader.
As we see so often in the Gothic, however, the reader is confronted by the terrifying possibility that the boundaries constructed between the foreign Other and the self are permeable, as transgressive figures blur the seemingly stable distinctions between the Other and the self. We see this play out in Dracula, for example, as the foreign vampire conspires to invade England and feed off of its wealth and women. His evil is foreign, but crafty and infectious. By sexualizing and infecting British women, he threatens to undermine the sexual dominance of the heterosexual British male, and by purchasing properties in London, he subverts British bourgeois ownership. Though the superiority of the British self is ultimately confirmed through Dracula’s literal disintegration, the vampiric figure of the foreign Other constantly threatens to reemerge through exchanges of currency and blood.
Courtesy of Heather Noble, Marquette University
Said, Edward W. Orientalism . New York : Pantheon Books, 1978. Print.
Ethelred & Lidania; OR, The Sacrifice to Woden [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson
Inkle and Yarico; or, Love in a Cave. An Interesting Tale., Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson
The History of Zoa, the Beautiful Indian, Daughter of Henrietta de Bellgrave; and of Rodomond, Whom Zoa Releases from Confinement, and with Him Makes Her Escape from Her Father, Who Was the Occasion of Rodomond's Imprisonment and Dreadful Sufferings. To Which is Added the Memoirs of Lucy Harris, a Foundling, Who, at Sixteen Years of Age Was Discovered to be Daughter to the Countess of B- A True Story, Unknown
The True and Affecting History of Henrietta de Bellgrave; A Woman Born Only for Calamities. Being an Unhappy Daughter, Wretched Wife, and Unfortunate Mother; Containing a Series of the Most Uncommon Adventures that Ever Befel One Person by Sea and Land, Unknown