The racialization of the occult in British novels, 1850-1900

  • John Bliss

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis examines the ways in which the occult and its practitioners are represented in British novels from 1850-1900 and asserts that their representations are racialized in each case. Specifically, this thesis analyzes how the practice of the occult is portrayed in Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854), A Strange Story by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1861), The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886), Trilby by George Du Maurier (1894), The Blood of the Vampire by Florence Marryat (1897), The Beetle by Richard Marsh (1897), and Cleo the Magnificent by Louis Zangwill (1899). I argue that these novels are emblematic of the ways that British novels participated in, contributed to, and commented on the racialization of the occult that occurred across different genres of fiction published in the second half of the nineteenth century, emphasizing that while individual characters are shaped more specifically by the prevailing discussions of race and the occult that existed during the time of their publication. To demonstrate how pervasive this trend was, this thesis deliberately incorporates a range of canonical and non-canonical texts across several genres that participate in the racialization of the occult, organized by the type of occult practice being racialized. This racialization is accomplished through an emphasis on five key elements regarding occult characters in the novel: physical darkness, a comparison to dangerous animals, a threat posed to the white characters, the framing of the occult character as representative of their entire race, and the eventual removal of the occult character from the story. The novels I examine here contain these elements with minor variations. They are also present in representations of different races, classes, and genders, reinforcing the association of “the Occult” with “the Other.”
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorClare Gill (Supervisor)


  • Occult
  • Literature
  • Racialization
  • British
  • Novel
  • Science
  • Race
  • Cranford
  • A strange story
  • The moonstone
  • Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • Trilby
  • The blood of the vampire
  • The beetle
  • Cleo the Magnificent
  • Mesmerism
  • Hypnotism
  • Gender
  • Class
  • Alchemy
  • Conjuring
  • Stage magic
  • Theosophy
  • Imperialism
  • Other
  • Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • Wilkie Collins
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • George Du Maurier
  • Florence Marryat
  • Richard March
  • Louis Zangwill
  • Victorian
  • Empire
  • Anxiety
  • Magic

Access Status

  • Full text open

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