Monstrous 'Others': The Legacy of Race, Hybridity, and Intersectionality in the Nineteenth-Century Novel
Oualline, Valerie Beth
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In the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries, the construct of race became fixed in the collective consciousness of Europeans, in large part due to the efforts of Enlightenment-age scientists who sought to classify and define all species. Much of their research is eventually used to justify both slavery and colonization. The racial stereotypes established by these race scientists also permeate the literature of the nineteenth century. Into this world are born Frankenstein’s Creature, Bertha Mason, and Heathcliff, three characters who function as racial ‘Others’ in their respective texts, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. However, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Brontë, and Emily Brontë, the three women writers who craft these characters, both confirm and challenge race stereotypes. The first four chapters of this thesis will explore the construct of race and how it is reflected and subverted through the characters who function as racial ‘Others.’ The three nineteenth-century novels that comprise the primary focus of this thesis each present characters that reflect nineteenth-century beliefs about racial ‘Others’; however, these characters are more than just flat stereotypes or mere caricature. Instead, they are so complex, so compelling, so nuanced, that they demand reinterpretation. The final chapter will explore three twentieth- and twenty-first-century texts that have adapted and updated the characters: Victor LaValle’s Destroyer, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, and Maryse Condé’s Windward Heights. The three twentieth- and twenty-first-century reimaginings of these characters—a prequel, a sequel, and a remake—are compelling enough individually to demand close study of the way LaValle, Rhys, and Condé address issues of race and gender in their own time by reinterpreting nineteenth-century characters. Together, these three texts extend the discussion on how nineteenth-century attitudes toward race and empire continue to impact discourse and attitudes regarding racial Otherness in the twenty-first century.