Starting with the idea that neo-Victorianism’s humour privileges an intertextual form of irony typical of postmodernism, this chapter argues that the association of humour and Gothic produces a critical distance towards Gothic texts and tropes a detached perspective which is also an efficient anti-nostalgic device. What a humorous treatment of Victorian Gothic also allows is an ontological reconsideration of the concepts of otherness, the uncanny and the monstrous, precisely because humour encourages a reflexive attitude. The result of the playful hybridisation of humour and Victorian Gothic is a new novelistic species in keeping with the neo-Victorian cult of heterosis. Humour creating hermeneutic ambiguity and Gothic relying on conceptual uncertainty, the association of the two necessarily increases textual indeterminacy, and it is the challenge of this interpretative plurality that explains critics’ continued interest in the puzzles of neo-Victorian Gothic.
The Victorian Tradition and the Contemporary British Novel
What this analysis ultimately proposes is a reevaluation and a redefinition of postmodernism such as it is illustrated by the British novels which paradoxically both praise and mock, honour and debunk, imitate and subvert their Victorian models. Unashamedly opportunistic and deliberately exploiting the spirit of the time, this late form of postmodernism cannibalizes and reshapes not only Victorianism but all the other previous aesthetic movements - including early postmodernism.
Christian Gutleben and Julian Wolfreys
This chapter sets out to explore the correspondences between Victorian and postmodern situations of trauma. Through its refutation of Enlightenment values postmodernism gave rise to a traumatic sense of loss, which in turn created a need to find sources of solace and also of comparison – since trauma invites compassion for other forms of trauma, just as specific victims are more likely to feel compassion for other types of victim. And because the Victorian (rather than the modernist) period represents, phantasmally and mistakenly of course, the period before the fragmentation of the self and of the novel, it is toward the Victorian tradition that postmodernism turns as a source of comfort. Alternatively, it might be because the imperial losses and crises of Victorianism are still acute today that the contemporary arts ceaselessly return to and work through these unfinished traumas. Whatever the preferred explanation, the (re)integration of a historical comparative paradigm entails a return to ethics in the sense that the self constantly extends to the other. The rediscovery of the historical other as part of the contemporary self creates a sense of exhilaration, which conveys a new vitality to a new ethical form of postmodernism.