Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Talia Schaffer

Committee Members

Anne Humpherys

Caroline Reitz

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


Considering the many absurd coincidences, gender-bending characters, and unsubtle mockery of novelistic conventions that exist in Victorian sensation fiction, humor is something seldom examined in connection to the genre. Humoring Violations: Uncanny Humor in Victorian Sensation Fiction aims to fill this important critical gap by analyzing humor in well-known sensation texts as well as a later example of the genre: Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, and Ouida's Moths.

This study specifically considers humor in context with the uncanny and the violent, which is what makes it unique to the Victorian sensation novel. Many of the instances of humor that are analyzed occur when an ostensibly uncanny or violent aspect with the potential to culminate into horror unexpectedly subsides. It is in this incongruous moment that humor arises almost imperceptibly, and functions as a way to deal with the dread or incomprehensibility of the uncanny. To be confronted with humor is to be confronted with the anxieties and tensions of the uncanny that humor helps to elide. It is in this way that humor works unobtrusively with the uncanny in response to various menacing cultural, historical, and political anomalies surrounding the sensational text. In paying attention to these reversals then, we can read humor as an essential medium for the expression of sensation authors' cultural, historical, and political critiques. This mode of analysis more readily makes evident why humor was inserted into these otherwise serious, and uncanny texts, and why an attention to humor is crucial in our study of them now.

In addition to revelations about cultural values, constructs, and stereotypes that were in ascendancy at the time each sensation novel was produced, and how each author interrogates them, attention is given to the evolution of humor, from the more subtle humor of Braddon, to the macabre humor of Collins, and the garish sarcasm of Ouida. Doing so reveals important changes in the novels themselves, and the way humor and our response to it articulates the cultural economy.

In these ways, this study intends not only to highlight an omitted (and pivotal) aspect of sensation fiction, but also to demonstrate how humor offers a more modern and critically viable approach to interpreting this genre.