Folklore, fantasy, and fiction: the function of supernatural folklore in nineteenth and early twentieth-century British prose narratives of the literary fantastic
This dissertation reveals the important role of folk beliefs and motifs, adapted from traditional legends and fairy tales, in Victorian and Edwardian fantastic prose. Literary fairy tales and legends appropriate and reshape folkloric elements into texts that demonstrate the cultural instability of their historical eras. These hybrid literary forms indicate the self-consciousness of the literary culture that produced them; the very hesitation of the fantastic mode of writing highlights conflicts between ideological progressivism and social introspection. The adoption of folk tales casts both glamour and a shadow upon the pretensions of utopian visions.Superstition challenges reason throughout the narratives of folkloric fantasy. British bourgeois and elite culture scrutinizes both the implications of social reform---liberating an unruly underclass and its traditions---and of anthropological insights into global interconnections that erode the illusion of English superiority. Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, portrays the ties between native folklore and British imperialism. Similarly, writers of the Celtic Renaissance, like William Sharp, negotiate with Irish and Scottish folk traditions, attempting to create an aesthetic that could defy English cultural imperialism without succumbing to nationalistic insularity.Walking the writer's tightrope between preternatural folklore and literary respectability results in a variety of rhetorical strategies that produce multiple forms of the fantastic. Authors of Victorian and Edwardian literary fairy tales and fantasies find or formulate through folk motifs the optimistic or pessimistic images of socio-economic and domestic reform that they envision, while ironically dismissing the marvellous details of folk narratives that threaten to trivialize their prophetic or satirical voices. As for the realistic appropriations of legends and folk beliefs, gaps appear between the worldview of the narrator and folk informants in the works of William Carleton, Sheridan Le Fanu, and James Hogg. Narrative authority itself lies suspended in cultural uncertainty---dangling between two competing views of reality. Psychological and metaphysical explanations for the fantastic frequently clash within these texts, just as competing cultural and political perceptions from England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and the South Seas Islands lead to crises of interpretation. The logic of folk superstitions subverts---and expands---the borders of British literary culture.
- English