Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lisa Ann Robertson


This work investigates how Gothic narratives employed negative aesthetics, monstrous bodies, exploded meaning, and an unshakable mood of uncertainty to explore rising fears of dwindling morality and impending human doom during the long nineteenth century. Using Eugene Thacker’s cosmic pessimism, Sianne Ngai’s concept of tone, and Stephen Greenblatt’s theories of resonance and wonder, combined with monster theory, Gothic criticism, biological studies of fear, and nineteenth-century studies in medicine, science, and literature, I investigate how these texts constructed monstrous bodies to create an atmosphere of fear that reflected a culture of pessimism and a crisis of faith to contend, albeit unsuccessfully, with a deep-seated fear of an unassailable unknown. Chapter one discusses Anne Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance, expanding the limited scholarship exploring Gothic edifices. Chapter two discusses George Reynold’s Wagner the Wehr-wolf, introducing the werewolf as an important vehicle for understanding Victorian anxiety and fear. Chapter three provides insight into fin de siècle discussions of pessimism and challenges contemporary degeneration theory readings of H.G. Wells’s, The Time Machine. These novels revealed a Victorian world that defied reason, morality, and stable order, problematizing unified meaning. They revealed that stability is ephemeral and relief from chaos and doubt, fleeting. Instead of providing emotional closure or reassurance through their monstrous bodies, these texts contributed to the tenor of terror and pessimism of the day, reinforcing uncertainty and the impossibility of contending with an unassailable unknown. By understanding how these texts reflected and responded to a culture of pessimism and fear and by understanding how our twenty-first century sensibilities interpret the fears and anxieties written in the bodies of long nineteenth-century monsters, we can better understand how our own monsters reveal our modern anxieties and fears. By understanding the intertextuality between our own monsters and those of the long nineteenth century, we can rewrite our new narratives not by reshaping nineteenth-century monsters for modern anxieties but by uncovering the root cause of their design.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


English, Fear, Gothic, Unknown, Literature, nineteenth century

Number of Pages



University of South Dakota



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