Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Rebecca Stern

Abstract

During the nineteenth century, the British Empire grappled with a rapidly changing world, both in terms of the industrializing landscape at home and the multi-ethnic nature of their expanding empire. With native white British making up the privileged minority, the understanding of what a subject of the British Empire looked like began to change, contributing to racial anxieties and a rise in British nationalism. To consolidate and strengthen their sense of national identity, many white Victorians sought to define Britishness upon racially exclusive lines, prioritizing a Germanic or Anglo-Saxon ethnicity above all others, including other European ethnicities. One way the Victorians achieved this narrowing of racial identity was through using representations of Scandinavia to encourage the predominately English public to identify with the heroic and mythic elements of the Viking Age. The Viking Revival, a renewed interest in Scandinavia among Victorians contributed to the narrowing of British definitions of whiteness, which in turn helped to support and validate British imperial ambitions against both non-white countries and non-Germanic Europeans like the Irish. However, representations of Scandinavia served a dual purpose. Victorian portrayals of Scandinavia were either romanticizing through Gothic depictions that emphasized the mysticism and heroism of the Viking Age or presented the Nordic nations as either primitive backwaters or quainter, poorer versions of England. Through these representations the Victorians were effectively able to objectify Scandinavia. Such objectification served to place Scandinavia, and other non-English Germanic cultures, in a position of inferiority to the allegedly superior British Empire. In effect, the British used their shared connection with Scandinavia to elevate themselves over non-Germanic Europeans, and then objectified Scandinavia to further elevate themselves above the world.

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