Sophia Lee's The Recess (1785) details the ultimately tragic adventures of Mary, Queen of Scots' two daughters, as they seek justice (and romance) in a hostile world. Of course, Mary didn't have any daughters, but that's a minor issue--indeed, it's part of the point. The Recess stands at the junction of multiple genres: the early historical novel; the Gothic; and the secret history, that last of which is relevant here. A genre popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the secret history proposed, as Eve Tavor Bannet argues, that "behind the scenes, immoral, intriguing, ambitious, greedy, and very fallible, men and women had governed and continued to govern England, despite the laws."1 Secret histories, whether presented in fictional form or not, promised to expose bribes, deals, and other forms of political chicanery; they also speculated on hidden erotic motivations and encounters amongst the high and mighty, ranging from extramarital affairs to concealed marriages to even more sensational revelations. Taboo, I would suggest, turns out to descend from the secret history as much as it recognizably does from the Gothic: it proposes an alternate explanation for the early nineteenth-century history of English imperialism rooted in individual corruption, whether Sir Stuart Strange's determination to profit from the slave trade (after it had been rendered illegal) or the Prince Regent's belief in his absolute, God-given right to rule (even though, among other things, his father is still alive). And Delaney's own father effectively purchased his indigenous wife, Salish, as part of the bargain for Nootka Sound. James Delaney's own quest for profit does not (and, given historical facts on the ground, cannot) dismantle the system; it merely disables (or subverts the will of) its most egregious exemplars. The Regent is (temporarily) thwarted, but the monarchy survives. Sir Stuart Strange is dead and his guilt in the Cornwallis/Influence affair revealed, but the East India Company still has several decades to go. (Presumably, if there's a second season, we'll learn what's up with the Americans.)
Delaney himself, though, comes roaring straight out of the post-Byronic tradition of the Gothic anti-hero, his personality a mashup of Manfred (incestuous affair with his half-sister) and Heathcliff (goes away, comes back "different," discovers that his soulmate--that's also Wuthering Heights--is married to someone he despises). At least in this season, the series did not successfully explore what his Native American ancestry might mean to him or the plot, aside from its status as a signifier of imperial cruelty: Horace purchases a wife, fails to remake her to "European" standards, and dumps her. (Strictly speaking, this is how the series treated all of its female characters, except for Lorna...) But as Delaney himself says in the finale, though, he's headed for his "mother's country," so. Nevertheless, Delaney is a product (literal and figurative) of English imperialism, not outside it, his murderous excesses merely on a continuum with the EIC and the monarch; after all, as George Chichester succinctly sums things up, after Delaney complied with the order to trap the slaves in the hold, "[y]ou travelled to the Volta as a slave and then began to deal slaves. You stole diamonds from a fellow slaver and then returned to London" (ep. 7). Fully complicit in murder and theft, Delaney is not an example of heroic resistance to imperial depravity--his vengeance seems to be as much or more about what said depravity did to him than to all the other people it affected. His true opposite number in the series is the ex-slave Chichester, who pursues "justice" (his final word of dialogue) for the dead slaves with as much assiduity as Delaney does his own goals. Chichester's very belief in the possibility of justice and righteousness separates him from every other character in the series ("What kind of rational man believes in justice?" asks Delaney [ep. 7]); he is the only character who believes in disinterested moral universals. When Coop asks Chichester if he is concerned with wrongs "against your people," he coolly retorts, "against people" (ep. 5). Like Delaney, who undercuts the EIC with his own military training, Chichester turns England's own post-Enlightenment philosophical arsenal against it; unlike Delaney, he expects no profit from the transaction, nor does he ever resort to physical violence. (His non-violence allies him with Godfrey, another marginalized figure who, if not so heroically moral, is at least capable of acting with far more selflessness than Delaney is.) At the same time, though, Chichester cannot succeed without Delaney--they strike a deal for his testimony, although that deal remains unstated--which, even though it doesn't undercut Chichester's moral force as a character, does suggest the extent to which righteousness eo ipso has no purchase in an environment so clearly rotten.
1 Eve Tavor Bannet, "'Secret History': Or, Talebearing Inside and Outside the Secretorie," Huntington Library Quarterly 68.1-2 (2005): 379.