Matthews, Jodie (2008) Reading the Victorian Gypsy. Doctoral thesis, Cardiff University.

Nineteenth-century texts that focus on Gypsies construct a figure who ought to be locatable in a racial hierarchy, in a class system, and along gender lines. When read psychoanalytically, however, the texts reveal signs of having repressed uncertainty about where such boundaries may be drawn and what they signify. The figure of the Gypsy, existing literally and metaphorically on the verges of society, disrupts the stable locations of identity fenced off by discourse even as texts hope to offer the Gypsy as an example of how one may categorise others. Chapter One studies the figure of the Gypsy in the work of Walter Scott (1771–1832) and its relationship to that of a later writer, George Borrow (1803–1881). Chapter Two concentrates on the work of the Romany Ryes, examining the discursive implications of their impulse to conserve Gypsy culture in the face of its perceived annihilation. Chapter Three explores the construction of the Gypsy between engraved image and written text in the Illustrated London News, reading the ways in which the two forms work together on the page. Chapter Four looks at George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy (1868) and Daniel Deronda (1876) to examine the differences in the representation of a male Jew and female Gypsy in her work. The final chapter discusses the pervasive stereotype of Gypsies kidnapping children in the context of children’s literature. The readings performed throughout the thesis are underpinned by a deconstructive psychoanalysis (drawing on Jacques Derrida’s rethinking of the work of Sigmund Freud), which not only lends the project a methodology but demands an exploration of the ethics and responsibilities of reading and writing now, in the past, and for the future. The texts are thus under analysis and are seen to preserve traces of the nineteenth-century discourses in which they are woven (and which they also weave). Such conservation also always institutes a difference, however, and the attempted repression, silencing, banishment and fetishization of all the uncontained features of the figure of the Gypsy do not mean that the text has the Gypsy under control; all of these things come back to haunt it.

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