The Gothic Family Romance

Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice, and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order

The Gothic Family Romance

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: November 1999

Author: Margot Backus

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Tales of child sacrifice, demon lovers, incestual relations, and returns from the dead are part of English and Irish gothic literature. Such recurring tropes are examined in this pioneering study by Margot Gayle Backus to show how Anglo-Irish gothic works written from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries reflect the destructive effects of imperialism on the children and later descendents of Protestant English settlers in Ireland.
Backus uses contemporary theory, including that of Michel Foucault and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, to analyze texts by authors ranging from Richardson, Swift, Burke, Edgeworth, Stoker, and Wilde to contemporary Irish novelists and playwrights.
By charting the changing relations between the family and the British state, she shows how these authors dramatized a legacy of violence within the family cell and discusses how disturbing themes of child sacrifice and colonial repression are portrayed through irony, satire, “paranoid” fantasy, and gothic romance. In a reconceptualization of the Freudian family romance, Backus argues that the figures of the Anglo-Irish gothic embody the particular residue of childhood experiences within a settler colonial society in which biological reproduction represented an economic and political imperative.
Backus’s bold positioning of the nuclear family at the center of post-Enlightenment class and colonial power relations in England and Ireland will challenge and provoke scholars in the fields of Irish literature and British and postcolonial studies. The book will also interest students and scholars of women’s studies, and it has important implications for understanding contemporary conflicts in Ireland.


The Gothic Family Romance is an ambitious and wide-ranging reading of Irish literature, densely informed by queer theory, feminism, and Marxism. . . . Backus’s provocative study should bring a complex and neglected body of fiction to the attention of a wider academic readership.” — Vera Kreilkamp , Victorian Studies

“[An] excellent book. . . . recommed[ed] to anyone interested in the gothic or in Irish literature. . . . Margot Gayle Backus makes a compelling case, not only for the persistence of the gothic throughout the Anglo-Irish tradition, but also for the reasons why these writers would have found that these tropes and conventions expressed the conscious and unconscious anxieties of their present situation and of the troubled past that continues to haunt them.” — Anne Williams , Studies in the Novel

“Backus’s command of history, both political and literary, is profound, and her analyses of individual works are subtle, detailed, and richly theorized. A prodigious piece of scholarship, this volume will almost certainly take a place among the most important postcolonial studies of Irish literature.” — D. W. Madden , Choice

“Margot Gayle Backus has written a book that will excite Gothic readers and critics, for in it, she shows the prominence of national and sexual themes in Gothic literature as well as the interdependence of their formations, topics of inquiry often treated separately.” — Marcie Frank , Gothic Studies

“Richly detailed contextual readings.” — , Science Fiction Studies

“A compelling history of the Anglo-Irish gothic tradition that is ambitious, convincing, and valuable.” — Mary Favret, Indiana University

“Backus’s fresh and unexpected insights into Irish Gothic texts along with the sophisticated and contemporary theoretical base of her argument should ensure this book an important place in Irish studies.” — Ann Owens Weekes, University of Arizona

“With extraordinary analytic clarity, Margot Backus sifts the troubling evidence of three centuries and offers valuable commentary on writings from Swift to Jennifer Johnston, from Edmund Burke to Frank McGuinness. This book resonates with grand ideas.” — Declan Kiberd, University College Dublin


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Margot Gayle Backus is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1 The Other Half of the Story: English and Irish Social Formations, 1550-1700

2 "Does she not deserve to Pay for All This?" Compulsory Romance in the Constricting Family Cell

3 "Something Valuable of Their Own": Children, Reporduction, and Irony in Swift, Burke, and Edgeworth

4 "A Very Strange Agony": Parables of Sexual Subject Formation in Melmoth the Wanderer, Carmilla, and Dracula

5 Irish Gothic Realism and the Great War: The Devil's bargain and the Demon Lover

6 Somebody Else's Troubles: Post-treaty Retrenchment and the (Burning) Big House Novel

7 "Perhaps I may Come Live": Mother Ireland and the Unfinished Revolution




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Winner, 2000 Donald Murphy Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2414-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2380-8
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