Nation, miscegenation, and the myth of the mulatta/o monster 1859-1886

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2011-08-05 22:19Z by Steven

Nation, miscegenation, and the myth of the mulatta/o monster 1859-1886

Universite de Montreal (Canada)
261 pages
Publication Number: AAT NR60321
ISBN: 9780494603215

Jessica Alexandra Maeve Murphy

These presentee a la Faculte des etudes superieures En vue de l’obtention du grade de Philosophiae Doctor (Ph.D.) en etudes anglaises

“Nation, Miscegenation, and The Myth of the Mulatta/o Monster, 1859-1886” examines how Harriet Wilson, Harriet Jacobs, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Robert Louis Stevenson use the trope of the mulatta/o monster only to subvert it by showing readers that the real monster is white, hegemonic culture. More specifically, it deals with how Our Nig, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Octoroon, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depict the interracial body as a gothic house, one which is a microcosm for an increasingly hybrid and un-homely nation. The four texts under consideration in my thesis all explore what it means to be black and female (or dark and feminized) in the United States and Britain where to be white, male, and affluent is to have virtually limitless power over the bodies of women, particularly black ones.

Drawing upon Nancy Stepan’s notion of “proper places,” this dissertation looks at how interracial individuals challenged existing hierarchies in the mid-to-late nineteenth century by defying racial, gender, and class norms nationally and transatlantically. While many scientists of the period believed that mixed-race people were infertile and headed for extinction, the proliferation of such individuals attests to the fact that the number of racially hybrid people was increasing, not decreasing. For many Victorians and their American counterparts, the rise in this population as well as the shifting roles of black and white women, black men, and the working class compelled them to label these groups. It also heightened their concern with degeneration and their need to polarize black/white, female/male, and rich/poor. Yet, as this project shows, while such binaries are necessarily porous, England and the United States both made use of them to establish and define their national identities vis-à-vis one another. Whereas American writers like Jacobs and Wilson relied on such constructs to shame their country and to shape its future, British ones like Braddon used them to allege national superiority or, like Robert Louis Stevenson, later on in the nineteenth century, to reveal the changing face of the nation.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Making and Unmaking Monsters in Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig
  • Chapter 2: Sexual Propriety and Racial Transgression in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
  • Chapter 3: The Transatlantic Gaze in M. E. Braddon’s The Octoroon
  • Chapter 4: Mr. Hyde as Hybrid in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekvll and Mr. Hyde
  • Notes
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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