Ragged Fortunes and Swashbuckling Thrillers; Or, Recreating the Victorian in Young Adult Fiction 1985-2011
The Victorian era has become a fashionable setting for contemporary young adult fiction. Studies of the contemporary pseudo-Victorian novel have focussed almost entirely upon fiction for adults. Scarcely any attention has been paid to their young adult equivalents — the subject of this thesis. Despite being marketed as “historical” fiction, these works do not adopt actual Victorian history as its basis but are influenced by the literature of the time instead. The chief inspirations are authors such as Dickens and Conan Doyle rather than Victorian children’s classics. After demonstrating the appropriation of Victorian literature in the young adult novels of Pullman, Bajoria, Updale, and Lee, I discuss the function of this Victorian dimension. The nineteenth-century “essential” categories under study here — London, prostitutes, opium dens, orphans, detectives — once embodied Victorian anxieties regarding class, social upheaval, gender politics, colonial guilt, and nationalism. But when contemporary writers evoke Victorian ghosts, they are putting forth their own world view. Consequently, these texts are doubly haunted. Heavy with Victorian ideologies, they simultaneously propagate new fears (for instance, terrorism) and appeal to contemporary sensitivities (particularly feminism). Where Victorian values do not align with the authors’ own, they are challenged and “updated”. Whenever they are made to agree, the reader is confronted with assumptions and prejudices that echo disturbingly through the centuries.