Colonial Gothic : Morbid Anatomy, Commodification and Critique in Marcus Clarke’s ‘The Mystery of Major Molineux’

Gothic fiction, at least as it developed in Britain during the late eighteenth . and early nineteenth centuries, typically stages an encounter with difference. In this encounter an established set of social relations is shown to be premised on events that must be disavowed or elided in the interests of 'normal' social interaction. The world of the Gothic narrative, in other words, is based on repression: the dark secrets that come to light during its course indicate this. What appeared to be a stable, law-bound order turns out to be founded on crimes that must be expiated in order to facilitate narrative closure. It is no coincidence that this dynamic of repression and return, often figured in the literal hauntings of the Gothic text, is so frequently described, after Freud, as 'uncanny'. Indeed, Freud's ground-breaking essay of 1919 is based on a reading of a Gothic text, E.T.A. Hoffmann's 'The Sandman', suggesting the intimate relationship between Gothic literary tropes and the development of psycho- analytically informed cultural criticism. It is also no coincidence that the conventions of Gothic literature, as numerous critics have pointed out, seem to capture so precisely the alienated nature of colonial experience.1 After its initial vogue between 1780 and 1820, the Gothic is constantly adapted throughout the nineteenth century as a way of capturing the uncannily bifurcated character of colonialism, where the familiar and the unfamiliar coincide in the settler-colony.

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Published 1 October 2000 in Volume 19 No. 4. Subjects: Biology, Colonial life, Gothic, Journalism, Museums, Narrative techniques, Plot, Psychological detail, Writer's craft, Marcus Clarke.

Cite as: McCann, Andrew. ‘Colonial Gothic : Morbid Anatomy, Commodification and Critique in Marcus Clarke’s ‘The Mystery of Major Molineux’.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 4, 2000, doi: 10.20314/als.5154425f58.