While his thesis is primarily concerned with late-19th-century discourses and the late-Victorian Gothic novel, the questions it analyses are acutely relevant in today's society. What is normality? At which point do we understand behaviour as deviating from the norm? Who draws the line between the normal and the deviant? 'Gothic novels of the late Victorian age are highly creative in their treatment of these questions, and its many monsters—which include doppelgangers, vampires, giant insects and many more—provide a screen onto which many of the social and cultural fears of fin-de-siècle England are projected,' explains Stephan Karschay.
In the 19th century, otherness was considered as deviating from a healthy norm and therefore degenerate —a way of thinking that found its culmination in the inhuman ideology of 'degenerate art' under the Nazi regime in Germany. During the Victorian era, physicians influenced by Charles Darwin's thoughts on evolutionary history developed theories which sought to account for deviant social behaviour through physiological explanations. In the final two decades of the 19th century, these scientific hypotheses found their way into literature, particularly in the Gothic genre, some of the best-known examples of which are Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Bram Stoker's Dracula.
'Taking a closer look at scientific as well as fictional texts, I noticed that there was a convergence of thought patterns whenever the discourse turned to the 'abnormal' and, consequently, frightening. I felt it was important to show, from a cultural studies perspective, how discourses evolve, how they are disseminated and how they may slowly change over time,' Karschay says of his research. 'Whenever we brand something as 'not normal' we should ask ourselves what it is that we are using as our yardstick of normality. Phenomena which were considered perverse or even monstrous in the 19th century, such as Women's Emancipation, same-sex love and unusual sexual preferences—are nowadays accepted as a normal part of life, at least in western societies. However, since subtle forms of social and cultural exclusion persist, it is important that we continue our own ideas of what it means to be normal.
Stephan Karschay accepted the award at the annual meeting of the German Association for the Study of British Cultures on 31 October 2013 at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. In his laudatory speech, Professor Christian Huck of Kiel University praised the strengths of Karschay's thesis: “The author manages to reconstruct complex non-literary discourses in compelling clarity, without simplifying these debates, and then functionalises insights from this reconstruction in order to shed new light on central literary works of the late nineteenth century, and on cultural ways of thinking that inflicted themselves on the twentieth century.”
The Britcult Award is awarded biennially for outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral theses in the area of British Cultural Studies.
For more information about Stephan Karschay, please visit the Chair's website.
Enquiries concerning this press release should be addressed to Stephan Karschay, phone: +49 851 509 2795.