Ritual Sacrifice in Victorian Narrative

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Fall 2018


This dissertation uses critical and theoretical approaches of ritual sacrifice to understand how the Victorian novel rose to prominence. In A Tale of Two Cities it is used as means for cultural purgation, the one sacrifice of Sydney Carton representing the many innocents that fell to the guillotine in revolutionary France. In Alice in Wonderland, ritual sacrifice is used to symbolize the transition between childhood and adulthood. The violence of that transition manifests itself in the narrative through confusion, apathy, and the distance language creates between Alice and her understanding of both Wonderland and the real world. In The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Robert ritually kills at the behest of Gil-Martin until the finality of his own ritual killing, standing forever on the hypocritical footing of "œjustified" religious fanaticism, initially imported to him from Rev. Wringhim. This sacrifice seeks to overcome the misinterpretation of religious texts as a means of personal edification and the use of religious edicts to justify personal gain. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian's final act is a sacrifice of both himself and the art he embodies. These examples seek to illustrate that the product of the Victorian era's use of ritual sacrifice was the rise of the novel as not only a form of expression but also a textual space where ritual sacrifice could be enacted and challenged. To expand the boundaries of culture, authors employed the use of ritual sacrifice, a tradition that had long married text with reality, but Victorian authors created a new sense of it, one where it was only played out in the text. This transition was one that Victorian novelists saw would elevate novels as the highest art form. The spectrum of ritual sacrifice can be viewed both chronologically and thematically through the four novels that I have chosen to analyze. They all center on different versions of moral/cultural decay and how ritual sacrifice responds to each version. The first type of moral decay is where there is a loss of connection to God through the decaying ritual of prayer. The second type is an ambivalence to sacrifice, one where ritual sacrifice is critiqued. The third is how the power of ritual sacrifice is waning. The fourth is a ritual sacrifice that is played out in the mind and reflects decay in art and culture. This illustrates the arc over the century and how ritual sacrifice helped shaped different iterations of the novel. I also outline an Augmented Reality project that seeks to propose new ways to theorize ritual sacrifice's impact on Victorian conceptions of the novel.


Hunter Hayes

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature