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Sara Chung

My dissertation, “Reimagining the Human through a Gothic Reading of British Novels,” examines how the works of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Wilkie Collins, and George Eliot engage questions of being human and humanism through the use of the Gothic. Throughout Enlightenment and actively in the Victorian period, scholars endeavored to construct a universal and essential idea of the Eurocentric, white, and liberal human, which was intricately related to the period’s concern of the domestic, colonial, and racial others, along with the influence of colonial relations and capital deeply embedded in the idea of Victorian humanism. This precise idea of humanism is what prevails in Victorian literature, and with these texts being read and consumed as universal classics that “exist beyond the particularities of race,” it is necessary to revisit the idea of being human reflected in these pieces of literature. While realistically depicting such ideals and conflicts of being human, in novels such as Bleak House (1852-3), Villette (1853), The Moonstone (1868), and Daniel Deronda (1876), the gothic stylistics of the ghostly, haunting, irrational, and ambiguous are deployed to shed light on the poor, illiterate, gendered, disabled, and racialized. Represented as liminal and spectral beings, marginalized characters recede from the text, remain mysterious, identify themselves as nonentities, and disappear, or die. I posit that the Gothic disrupts our assumptions about being biological and monolithic humans and probe into the fundamental question about what being human means and how the gothic could problematize and lead us to reimagine and redefine being human. Doing so, I argue that the re-interpretation of the gothic allows us to imagine other modes of being – the ghostly, haunting, affective, and the fleshy, which are conceptual lenses that lead us to reconceive our being praxis. In making this argument, my project takes up the integral question of being human that leads recent discourses about humanism in modern race studies and humanist philosophy. By reaching to theoretical fields that seem disparate from my field, particularly those advanced by Sylvia Wynter, I establish a bridge that connects critical approaches suggested by modern theories with British canonical works.