Color, the Visual Arts, and Representations of Otherness in the Victorian Novel
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This dissertation investigates the cultural connections made between race and color in works of fiction from the Victorian and Edwardian era, particularly how authors who are also artists invent fantastically colored characters who are purple, blue, red, and yellow to rewrite (and sometimes reclaim) difference in their fiction. These strange and eccentric characters include the purple madwoman in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), the blue gentleman from Wilkie Collins’s Poor Miss Finch (1872), the red peddler in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (1878), and the little yellow girls of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Yellow Face” (1893) and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911). These fictional texts serve as a point of access into the cultural meanings of color in the nineteenth century and are situated at the intersection of Victorian discourses on the visual arts and race science. The second half of the nineteenth century constitutes a significant moment in the history of color: the rapid development of new color technologies helps to trigger the upheavals of the first avant-garde artistic movements and a reassessment of coloring’s prestige in the art academies. At the same time, race science appropriates color, using it as a criterion for classification in the establishment of global racial hierarchies. By imagining what it would be like to change one’s skin color, these artist-authors employ the aesthetic realm of color to explore the nature of human difference and alterity. In doing so, some of them are able to successfully formulate their own challenges to nineteenth-century racial discourse.
Durgan, Jessica (2012). Color, the Visual Arts, and Representations of Otherness in the Victorian Novel. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from