Contested pasts
David Hume, Horace Walpole and the emergence of Gothic fiction
in Sinister histories
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This chapter examines the complex, often antagonistic relationship between Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Hume’s The History of England (1754–62). As Walpole’s correspondence reveals, he had read numerous volumes of Hume’s history before writing Otranto (the first Gothic novel) and did not think very highly of its content or the methods used to write it. Reassessing the significance of the Gothic in the eighteenth century, this chapter discusses the extent to which Walpole’s novel can be viewed as a bold response to, and critique of, Hume’s historiography. Discussing the proliferation of violent and supernatural occurrences in Otranto, it is argued that the Gothic functions as Enlightenment history’s other; it exploits its insecurities, plagues its vulnerabilities, and imaginatively provides fictional presences for its many absences and omissions. Taking into account a wealth of historical evidence, this chapter proposes that Walpole’s novel can be read as an imaginative revolt against Hume’s multi-volume work of historiography and that it marks the beginning of the genre’s contentious relationship with Enlightenment historiography and the philosophy that underpins it.

Sinister histories

Gothic novels and representations of the past, from Horace Walpole to Mary Wollstonecraft

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