Emma JuddFollow


Religiosity, Racism, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, The Perils


In their 1857 collaborative Christmas novella, The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins present various instances of blatant and unabashed racism on the island of Silver-Store. From nearly the beginning, the story’s narrator, Gill Davis, notes, “I have stated myself to be a man of no learning, and, if I entertain prejudices, I hope allowance may be made. I will now confess to one. It may be a right one or it may be a wrong one; but, I never did like Natives, except in the form of oysters” (12). This racist attitude is not singular to Gill. Other inhabitants of the island treat the native peoples in equally demeaning ways. When Gill asks Miss Maryon if the “Sambos” are trustworthy, she replies, “Perfectly! We are all very kind to them, and they are very grateful to us” (10). While Miss Maryon is not promoting a physical, violent form of racism, she is still supporting a distinction in which benevolent, white Englishmen are on top, and Sambos are indebted to them. Edward Said describes this attitude of the English as being part of “the enormously systematic discipline by which European culture was able to manage--and even produce--the Orient politically, socio-logically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period” (3). While fictitious Silver-Store is located in the West Indies, as opposed to a country in the East, or “Orient,” it is still a British colony and therefore subject to English ideological control, and English racial superiority. Although it initially appears as though the English characters find themselves superior solely because they are white and British, the English are continually shown to be dominant, even over other well-off Europeans, such as Don Pedro, due to their Christian religiosity. Throughout the text, it becomes increasingly apparent that Dickens and Collins utilize religion as the means of perpetuating the racial superiority mindset, thereby suggesting that the ideologies of religiosity and racism are highly difficult to separate.

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English 295