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Journey into Fear: Nineteenth Century Travel, Transportation, and the Disquieting Effects of Change

Melissa J McCoy, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


One of the many changes to emerge in nineteenth-century Britain was the proliferation of transportation. Road improvements brought increases in public and private coaching, shipping and transportation by water increased, and steam power and the advent of the railway changed the face of travel forever. As modes of transportation became more varied and accessible, the reading public increased, and so did the variety of genres available for public consumption. Technology seemed to feed the public interest in stories incorporating supernatural and Gothic elements, perhaps as readers who became more indoctrinated in the rapid changes of industrialization began to worry that something more primal and, perhaps sinister, was being overlooked. The subject of this work is the analysis of nineteenth-century Gothic and sensational novels in the context of modernity and it seeks to connect the use of modes of transportation in British literature of the period to the anxieties inherent in a rapidly-changing culture. Works explored include Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Charles Dickens's "The Signal-Man," Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas, Charlotte Brontë's Villette, Rudyard Kipling's Kim, Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," and William Hope Hodgson's "The Derelict." Close readings of these works through the lens of transportation changes show that an association of the supernatural with modern emergent forms of nineteenth-century travel functions as a surrogate for latent concerns about the implications of technology. Additionally, common fears about shared spaces of public transportation and the mingling of people who accessed travel networks are considered as these anxieties appear in the plots of popular fiction of nineteenth-century Britain.

Subject Area

European history|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

McCoy, Melissa J, "Journey into Fear: Nineteenth Century Travel, Transportation, and the Disquieting Effects of Change" (2018). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10789271.