Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Edward Jacobs

Committee Member

Leila May

Committee Member

Manuela Mourão

Committee Member

Delores Phillips


“Losing” one’s self in a story is one of the great pleasures of reading. Key to this act is the “transport” of the reader into the storyworld. Nineteenth-century British narratives offered various transport modes, including prefaces and footnotes designed to orient the reader to the storyworld and narrative interventions designed to align the reader with the values of that world. Yet this act of transport was fraught with tensions and anxieties in the nineteenth century. Worries about the dangers of reading, especially the dangers for women and the lower classes, abounded; much of the worry stemmed from fears that these readers would not be able to tell the difference between “good” and “bad” reading materials and between facts and fictions – that these readers would be tainted or corrupted by the act of reading.

Illicit narratives of the nineteenth century appropriated forms associated with more aboveboard narratives. In borrowing prefaces, footnotes, and the direct address of readers, these illicit narratives cloak themselves with the appearances of licit stories. Illicit narrative is not a genre – it is an umbrella term for those narratives classed by contemporary society as unsuitable reading materials. Gothic novels, sensation fiction, and erotica are illicit narratives as are newspaper reports and scholarly texts on taboo subjects. Rather than being a stable category, the term “illicit” is subject to change based on societal norms; that which was considered illicit in the 1830s may seem tame by the 1890s.

This project explores the uses of paratextual and narratorial interventions in a selection of illicit British narratives from the nineteenth century. Classifications of narratives as illicit are based on contemporary views of the narratives. Moreover, for the purposes of this project, only those illicit narratives centering on gender, sex, and sexuality will be considered. Drawing on the concept of possible worlds from narrative theory, this project explores the ways in which these interventions work with and against the content of the narratives to create queered possible worlds for the reader.


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