Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation analyzes four late-Victorian imperial Gothic novels which focus on the British search for forbidden knowledge held by foreign and ancient Others. I demonstrate how the devastating outcomes of these tales illustrate the crisis of epistemology and undecidability felt by Victorians (often subconsciously) in relation to medico-legal policies like the colonial Contagious Diseases Acts and imperial campaigns such as the military intervention in 1880s Egypt to secure control of the Suez Canal. A chapter on Rider Haggard's She (1886-7) highlights the use of an (ultimately effective) Egyptian curse against the seemingly superior power of the imperialist; the ostensibly immortal Ayesha believes she has mastered the secret knowledge of the Other only to find herself destroyed by her arrogance and ignorance. This narrative of Egyptian, Arab, and British characters serves as a metaphor for the 1880s Egyptian Question---one in which Haggard advises wariness. A chapter on Richard Marsh's The Beetle (1897) examines concerns about sexual knowledge, contamination, and the fear of the colonial prostitute. I reveal how the novel supports the continuation of the colonial Contagious Diseases Acts as it portrays syphilitic contagion and the psychological, as well as physical, breakdown into irrational states from exposure to the colonial woman. A chapter on Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903) argues that the novel portrays hybridity as a force of menacing mimicry upon Victorian tomb-raiding Egyptologists. The ambiguity espoused in both the dissimilar 1903 and 1912 editions of the novel attest to the inability to truly know anything for certain and cautions against the flawed arrogance of such assuredness, particularly when it relies on the exploitation of archeological artefacts from colonized lands. The final chapter on Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan (1894) reveals that the search for forbidden knowledge can expose one to a terrifying world beyond language, rationality, and epistemology into a queered phenomenology. The fundamental anxiety underlying all these texts is not merely the potential fallibility of Western knowledge and Europeans' ability to coopt the knowledge of the Other, but also the terrifying encounter with the Real---the traumatic kernel outside epistemology and symbolization itself.
Davis, Kristen J., ""Beyond the Veil": Queering Epistemologies, Imperial Anxieties, and the Quest for Forbidden Knowledge in Late-Victorian Gothic Literature" (2017). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 5446.