“I did as others did and as others had me do”: Postcolonial (Mis)Representations and Perpetrator Trauma in Season 1 of Taboo (2017-)
Keywords:neo-Victorianism on screen, perpetrator trauma, imperial Gothic, slavery, Middle Passage
Neo-Victorian fiction has been concerned with historically oppressed and traumatised characters from the 1990s onwards (Llewellyn 2008). More recently, neo-Victorianism on screen has shifted its attention to the figure of the perpetrator and their unresolved guilt, as in the TV series Penny Dreadful (Logan 2014-2016) or Taboo (Knight, Hardy and Hardy 2017-present). However, perpetrator trauma is an under-theorised field in the humanities (Morag 2018), neo-Victorian studies included. This article analyses Taboo as a neo-Victorian postcolonial text that explores the trauma of its protagonist James Delaney, an imperial perpetrator who transported and sold African slaves in the Middle Passage for the East India Company. Although the series is not set in the Victorian period, neo-Victorianism is here understood as fiction expanding beyond the historical boundaries of the Victorian era and that presents the long nineteenth century as synonymous with the empire (Ho 2012: 4). Thus, I argue that postcolonial texts like Taboo should be considered neo-Victorian since they are set in the nineteenth century to respond to and contest (neo-)imperial practices. However, neo-Victorian postcolonialism offers ambivalent representations of the British Empire, as it simultaneously critiques and reproduces its ideologies (Ho 2012; Primorac 2018). This article examines the ways in which Taboo follows this contradictory pattern, since it seemingly denounces the imperial atrocity of the slave trade through Delaney’s perpetrator trauma, while simultaneously perpetuating it through his future colonizing trip to the Americas. Hence, Delaney is portrayed as an anti-hero in the series, given that he is both the enemy and the very product of the British Empire.
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