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The Darkness Behind the Turban: The Moor and Islamophobia in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya

Charlotte Dacre conjures a gripping Gothic story full of lust, desire, and starring Satan in her 1806 novel Zofloya, or The Moor, documenting the lives of an aristocratic family in 15th-century Venice. Zofloya focuses on the life of Victoria, a wealthy and indulged young woman. She gets sent to live with a relative while her mother and new husband begin their new life without her. She manages to escape, seeking refuge with her future husband, Berenza. Victoria wallows in her sexual desires as she descends into adultery and then multiple homicide befriending and lusting after a Moorish servant, Zofloya, revealed as Satan. 

The world of the novel uses Victoria as an example of excess (white, privileged) feminine desire, but Zofloya bears the brunt of the blame because of his race. Contemporary critics have discussed the alignment of racialized others and overly sexual femininity. But Zofloya does not need to do much; Victoria was already on the path of madness; one possible reading of the novel would presume her erotic fetishization of a Black servant epitomizes that madness, for good or ill, in a Eurocentric world view. Contemporary scholars who examine the text with an eye to its racial imaginary tend to explore the work as a critique of relations between the West Indies and England. They focus on the text in the context of the 19th century, particularly on the dialogue surrounding Abolition. Tiffany's essay builds on the focus of how anti-Blackness works in the novel and suggests that while important, existing critiques, such as Kim Michaswi’s and S.D. Schotland’s, fail to grapple with the specific significance of the Moorish element. Her paper focuses on the ways in which attention to the novel use of Moorish ancestry is central to an analysis of race relations in the novel.

Presented at the PCA/ACA (Popular Culture Association) Conference April 13th, 2022