Undying histories
Washington Irving’s Gothic afterlives
in The Gothic and death
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This chapter examines Irving’s 1824 story The Adventure of the German Student alongside his two earlier tales,The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, focusing on Irving’s radical rethinking of the historical tale as a site of ghostly returns. The presence of death and ghostly figures at the heart of foundational historical moments makes the telling and retelling of the historical tale a fraught endeavour. Irving’s seemingly harmless ‘ghost stories’ are in effect radical reinventions of ‘History’ as a constant problem to be grappled with in the here and now. In The Adventure of the German Student, the figure of the guillotine offers a prime symbol for this deathly presence at the heart of the historical event, casting it as always already horrific and showcasing History’s deadly and beheading forces at work on the individual and the collective alike.

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