Transporting conviction: The narrative power of Australian fantasy in nineteenth-century British literature
My dissertation examines the historical, social, and political relationship between Great Britain and Australia from the moment Australia was colonized in 1788 until it became a federation in 1901. Although many authors and artists of the Romantic and Victorian periods maintained a rich engagement with the colony of Australia, critics pay little attention to this important sector of the British empire and instead focus on the more “exotic” colonies such as India. The British first colonized Australia through the process of convict transportation, and I argue that the geographic space of Australia was significant in transporting convictions (transforming ideas and beliefs) within Great Britain itself. Focusing on issues of perspective, I claim that by reading about and looking at the colony of Australia, members of the British public were offered a new method for seeing and understanding themselves and their own society. Because of its unique establishment as a colonial mirror of Britain, Australia led readers to reflect upon and rethink the most crucial issues of their time: imperialism, national identity, gender, rehabilitation, and the importance of sympathy in understanding social relations.
I begin by demonstrating that theories of the picturesque were vital to establishing a moral vision of and British desire for Australia during the Romantic era, and that these theories actively constructed a British morality that accepted colonization as proper and necessary and upheld the processes of Aboriginal dispossession and erasure. Highlighting the transported-and-returned convict, I next claim that by reading about convict characters in works of Victorian fiction by influential authors such as Charles Dickens, British citizens became witnesses to their own and their society's hypocritical responses to the disadvantaged members of their nation. Emigrant bodies were also significant in transforming British beliefs concerning the opportunities for rehabilitation, but this time in a non-criminal sense. I focus on the postal network as a trope for the act of transportation and return that highlights the continuous circulation of bodies and ideas between colony and mother nation, and I contend that colonial activities can never be truly erased or repressed, but always circulate back to the mother nation with permanent consequences. I then demonstrate that the first novels written in Australia, including works by Catherine Helen Spence, interrogated previous ways of defining nationhood as well as gender roles and class hierarchies for the British. Finally, I highlight the many important ways that Australia continues to operate as a mirror reflecting and challenging ideas and beliefs about our contemporary historical moment.