“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.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Dina Pedro, University of Valencia

PhD candidate

Department of English and German

University of Valencia


BOEHM-SCHNITKER, Nadine and Susanne Gruss, eds. 2014. Neo-Victorian Literature and Culture: Immersions and Revisitations. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315886107

CARR, James A. 1979. “The Battle of New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent.” Diplomatic History, 3(3): 273-282. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.1979.tb00315.x

CARUTH, Cathy. 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins UP. https://doi.org/10.1353/book.20656

CHAMBERS, Deborah. 2021. Representing the Family. Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publications.

CLARK, Anna. 2000. “Domesticity and the Problems of Wifebeating in Nineteenth-Century Britain Working-Class Culture, Law and Politics.” In D’Cruze and Crewe 2000, 27-40.

COX, Jessica. 2014. “Narratives of Sexual Trauma in Contemporary Adaptations of The Woman in White.” In Boehm-Schnitker and Gruss 2014, 137-151.

DAY, Sara K., and Sonya Sawyer Fritz, eds. 2018. The Victorian Era in Twenty-First Century Children’s and Adolescent Literature and Culture. London/New York: Routledge.

D’Cruze, Shani, and Ivor Crewe, eds. 2000. Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850-1950: Gender and Class. New York: Pearson Education Limited.

FREUD, Sigmund. 2001 (1905). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality and Other Works. London: Vintage, 123-246.

FREUD, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” 2001 (1919). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. XVII (1917-1919), An Infantile Neurosis; and Other Works. London: Vintage, 218-253.

FREUD, Sigmund. 2012 (1913). Totem and Taboo. London: Empire Books. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203164709

FREUD, Sigmund, and Joseph Breuer. 2004 (1895). Studies in Hysteria. London: Penguin Books.

GODFREY, E. 2012. Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137284563

HEILMANN, Ann, and Mark Llewellyn. Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999-2009. Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230281691

INOHARA, Takehiro, Keith W. Hipel and Sean Walker. 2007. “Conflict Analysis Approaches for Investigating Attitudes and Misperceptions in the War of 1812.” Journal of Systems Science and Systems Engineering 16(2): 181-201. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11518-007-5042-x

KIRCHKNOPF, Andrea. 2008. “(Re)workings of Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Definitions, Terminology, Contexts.” Neo-Victorian Studies 1(1): 53-80.

KNIGHT, Steven, Tom Hardy and Chips Hardy, creators. Taboo. 2017. United Kingdom: Scott Free London and Hardy Son & Baker.

KOHLKE, Marie Luise. 2008. “The Neo-Victorian Sexsation: Literary Excursions into the Nineteenth Century Erotic.” In Orza and Kohlke 2008, 345-356.

KOHLKE, Marie Luise. 2014. “Mining the Neo-Victorian Vein. Prospecting for Gold, Buried Treasure and Uncertain Metal.” In Boehm-Schnitker and Gruss 2014, 21-35.

KOHLKE, Marie-Luise and Christian Gutleben. 2010a. “Introducing Neo-Victorian Family Matters: Cultural Capital and Reproduction.” In Kohlke and Gutleben 2010b, 1-42. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789401207249_002

KOHLKE, Marie-Luise and Christian Gutleben. 2012a. “The (Mis)Shapes of Neo-Victorian Gothic: Continuations, Adaptations, Transformations.” In Kohlke and Gutleben 2012b, pp. 1-48. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789401208963_002

KOHLKE, Marie-Luise and Christian Gutleben, eds. 2010b. Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: the Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering. Amsterdam: Rodopi/Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789042032316

KOHLKE, Marie-Luise and Christian Gutleben, eds. 2012b.

Neo-Victorian Gothic Horror, Violence and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century. Amsterdam, Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789401208963

KUPER, Adam. 2002. “Incest, Cousin Marriage, and the Origin of the Human Sciences in Nineteenth-Century England.” Past and Present 174: 158-183. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674054141

KUPER, Adam. 2009. Incest and Influence: The Private Lives of Bourgeois England. Boston: Harvard UP. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674054141

LAWSON, Kate, and Lynn Shakinovsky. 2012a. “Introduction.” In Lawson and Shakinovsky 2012b, 1-22.

LAWSON, Kate, and Lynn Shakinovsky, eds. 2012b. The Marked Body: Domestic Violence in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Literature. New York: State University of New York Press.

LLEWELLYN, Mark. 2008. “What is Neo-Victorian Studies?” Neo-Victorian Studies 1(1), 164-185.

LLEWELLYN, Mark. 2010. “‘Perfectly Innocent, Natural, Playful’: Incest in Neo-Victorian Women’s Writing.” In Kohlke and Gutleben 2010b, 133-160. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789042032316_006

LOUTTIT, Chris and Erin Louttit. 2018. “Introduction. Screening the Victorians in the Twenty-First Century.” Neo-Victorian Studies 11(1), 1-14.

MIKOLCHAK, Maria. 2004. “Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" as Part of the Nineteenth-Century American Literary Tradition.” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 5(2): 29-49.

MOUSOUTZANIS, Aris. 2020. “Imperial Gothic for Global Britain: BBC’s Taboo (2017-present).” Gothic Studies 22(3): 1-16. https://doi.org/10.3366/gothic.2020.0064

NOIMANN, Chamutal. 2018. “Steampunk Kim: The Neo-Victorian Cosmopolitan Child in Philip Reeve’s Larklight.” In Sara K. Day and Sonya Sawyer Fritz 2018, 88-103.

ONYETT, Nicola. 2010. “Fallen angels: Nicola Onyett Compares Representations of the Fallen Woman in Victorian Art and Literature.” The English Review 21(1): 1-4.

ORZA, Luisa, and Marie-Luise Kohlke, eds. 2008. Probing the Problematics: Sex and Sexuality. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

OVERTON, Bill. 2002. Fictions of Female Adultery 1684-1890: Theories and Circumtexts. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230286207

PRIMORAC, Antonija. 2018. Neo-Victorianism on Screen: Postfeminism and Contemporary Adaptations of Victorian Women. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-64559-9

RICHARDSON, Alan. 1985. “The Dangers of Sympathy: Sibling Incest in English Romantic Poetry.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 25(4):737-754. https://doi.org/10.2307/450672

SCHWAN, Anne. 2014. Convict Voices: Women, Class, and Writing about Prison in Nineteenth-Century England. New Hampshire: New Hampshire UP.

TANNER, Tory. 1981. Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins UP.

TATE, Carolyn. 2013. “Lesbian Incest as Queer Kinship: Michael Field and the Erotic Middle-Class Victorian Family.” Neo-Victorian Studies 39(2): 181-199. https://doi.org/10.1353/vcr.2013.0044

WINGERT, Lynn. 2007 Battered, Bruised, and Abused Women: Domestic Violence in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. PhD diss., Iowa State University.



Statistics RUA



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.