“I Used to Think We Were the Same Person:” Disrupting the Ideal Nuclear Family Myth through Incest, Adultery and Gendered Violence in Taboo (2017-)





incest, adultery, gendered violence, neo-Victorian fiction, dysfunctional family


The nuclear family consolidated its social status as the institution upholding the national, capitalist and moral values of Western societies in the long nineteenth century (Kohlke and Gutleben 2010, 1). Consequently, neo-Victorian literary and screen texts often try to challenge the idealised conceptualization of this institution by bringing to the fore its potential dysfunctionalities, such as monstrous or negligent parents, domestic violence, incest or adultery. This is the case of the TV series Taboo (2017-), which portrays a dysfunctional family whose foundations are based on colonialism, patriarchal violence and Oedipal relations. In this article, I examine Taboo as a neo-Victorian narrative of family trauma, which foregrounds and criticizes gendered violence, a phenomenon that was silenced in nineteenth-century literary and historical records (Lawson and Shakinovsky 2012a, 1). Moreover, I also scrutinise the incest trope, following Llewellyn’s three-fold approach (2010), based on a triangulation between ethics, aesthetics and psychoanalysis. Finally, I consider how Taboo reproduces the most characteristic traits of nineteenth-century adultery novels, so as to expose the sexual dissatisfaction of its female protagonist, Zilpha Delaney, and her desire to escape from her abusive and oppressive husband. As I show in this article, Taboo manages to disrupt the myth of the nuclear family as a natural and indisputable moralising institution. Likewise, at first, the series shows potential feminist and post-colonial drives, as it attempts to denounce nineteenth-century imperialist and misogynistic ideologies within the family. However, Taboo fails to grant its heroine independence and female empowerment in the end. This is so because it replicates the ending of nineteenth-century adultery novels, where the adulterous wife committed suicide after being rejected by her lover.


Spanish Ministry of Science and Universities (FPU17/03064). MINECO Research project “Orientation, Towards a Dynamic Understanding of Contemporary Fiction and Culture” (FFI2017-86417-P). The GVA Research Project AICO/2021/225 (PI Laura Monrós-Gaspar)


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How to Cite

Pedro, Dina. 2023. “‘I Used to Think We Were the Same Person:’ Disrupting the Ideal Nuclear Family Myth through Incest, Adultery and Gendered Violence in Taboo (2017-)”. Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina De Estudios Ingleses, no. 38 (January):23-41. https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.2023.38.02.