‘Something was going from me – the capacity, as it were, to be myself’
‘Transformational objects’ and the Gothic fiction of Richard Marsh
in Richard Marsh, popular fiction and literary culture, 1890–1915
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This chapter explores the treatment of objects, things, in Marsh’s major Gothic works: The Beetle, The Goddess and The Joss. The increasing popularity in the late nineteenth century of collecting and consuming objects offers a context in which boundaries between people and things become uncertain, with objects seemingly exercising a disturbing agency. Marsh’s texts present mutually transforming encounters between objects and characters that question the stability of identity. The chapter suggests that whilst transgressing boundaries between self and not-self is often explored in critical analysis through mesmerism, a more appropriate conceptual framework for Marsh is provided by object relations psychoanalysis, and specifically Christopher Bollas’s notion of ‘transformational objects’. Developing this notion in relation to Bill Brown’s ‘thing theory’, the chapter identifies Marsh’s objects as ‘transformational things’, encounters with which often lead to terrifying breakdowns of selfhood, conveying a pervasive sense of existential horror and exposing the precariousness of late-nineteenth-century identity.

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