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“Keep the secrets of the past buried”: “Taboo”’s Taboo’s Salt Water Hauntings
ABSTRACT Whilst fiction classified as “neo-Victorian” has provided radical interrogations of Victorian discourses concerning gender, sexuality, and class, critical enquiries into Britain’s imperial past have long played a comparatively minor role. One recent exception is the BBC’s Taboo (2017), whose first series reimagines Britain’s involvement in the trading of enslaved Africans. This article explores the series’ ambivalent spatial politics, specifically its positioning of salt water as a signifier of death and colonial power. Taboo depicts various ways in which the colonized oceans return to haunt the British—no doubt a commentary on Britain’s reluctant reappraisal of its imperial history. At the same time, however, the series repeatedly resorts to colonialist narrative patterns and tropes of the imperial Gothic. In doing so, I suggest, Taboo eventually undermines its own critical stance, instead betraying a considerable amount of perplexity regarding the question of how to narrate empire in the twenty-first century.
KEYWORDS empire, (neo-)Victorianism, period drama, salt water, Taboo, transatlantic enslavement