About “Servants and the Gothic”

Having recently completed a PhD dissertation in servant characters in early Gothic fiction, I am currently undertaking research on servant narratives and their cultural, political, and literary impact in early Gothic novels, plays, and chapbook adaptations. In addition to journal articles, writing is underway for a new monograph entitled Servants and the Gothic: A half-told tale, 1764-1831.

Servants and the Gothic: A half-told tale, 1764-1831 is a study of the narrative performances and identities of servant characters within early Gothic novels, covering the period from 1764 to 1831 (i.e. the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto to the publication of the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus).

Throughout the eighteenth century servants developed a reputation as problematic figures within political and domestic spaces, representatives of ‘otherness’ whose voices potentially undermined both social and private identity. Because of assumptions about eighteenth century social restraints and literary prerogatives, servants and their narratives in eighteenth-century Gothic fiction are frequently identified in contemporary critical theory as unsophisticated plot devices, comic relief, or foils for nobler characters. The research undertaken for the “Gothic Servants” project and the Servants and the Gothic monograph recasts servant characters within early Gothic novels as dramatically important ‘narrators’ who verbally or non-verbally perform an exchange of dialogue, a moral insight, or a folkloric or gossip-based story. Within the eclectic dialectic modes of the Gothic genre in particular, servant narratives illuminate broad social concerns as well as elements specific to the psychological, emotional, and historical preoccupations of the Gothic. They destabilize social and domestic structures and modes of hegemonic empiricism, introducing the possibility of alternative ‘realities’ within their narratives and radically re-imagining the worlds and identities of other characters. The servant’s role also has broader literary implications as an interrogation of Gothic traditions and innovations. Many early Gothic authors used servant narrators as authorial metonyms in order to reflect a range of internal and external issues and anxieties, to moderate character development, to construct a Gothic aesthetic within the text, and to examine the sources and methodologies which define the genre.