Torture and Liberalism in Imperial Britain
Katherine Judith Anderson
Placing acts of torture and words about torture in relation to changing definitions of citizenship and human rights, Twisted Words argues that torture—as a technique of state terrorism—evolved in relation to nineteenth-century liberalism, combining the traditional definition of exceptional acts of cruelty with systemic, banal, or everyday violence. Analyzing canonical novels by George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, and George Meredith alongside an impressive array of lesser-known fiction through the lenses of critical terrorism studies and political, legal, and phenomenological theory, Anderson rethinks torture as a mode of reclaiming an embodied citizenship and demonstrates how the Victorians ushered in our modern definition of torture. Furthermore, she argues that torture is foundational to Western modernity, since liberalism was, and continues to be, dependent on state-sanctioned—and at times state-sponsored—torture, establishing parallels between Victorian liberal thought and contemporary (neo)imperialism and global politics.
Katherine Judith Anderson is an assistant professor of English at Western Washington University. Her work has appeared in Victorian Review and the edited collection Traumatic Tales: British Nationhood and National Trauma in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Routledge). She’s also written for Public Books, BigCityLit, The Strategy Bridge, and other digital outlets.
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