Jonathan Dent
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‘[B]ringing this deed of darkness to light’
Representations of the past in Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778)
in Sinister histories
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Building on the notion that the Gothic is shaped by (and responds to) Enlightenment historiography and shifting conceptions of the past in the eighteenth century, this chapter proposes that The Old English Baron can be read as a reaction to a popular (and frequently neglected) work of proto-Enlightenment English history that Reeve was very familiar with: Nicholas Tindal’s translation of Rapin’s History of England (1721–1731). Focusing on this previously ignored relationship, this chapter considers the religious and political implications of Rapin’s history for the Gothic past presented in The Old English Baron. Furthermore, it reveals the ways in which Reeve’s novel can be read as a rewriting of Otranto and draws attention to the historical specificity that she introduces to the Gothic genre at this time. Focusing on Reeve’s Old Whig political beliefs and the English setting of her novel, it assesses the extent to which The Old English Baron conveys Whig historico-political nightmares and focuses on how her Gothic past betrays contemporary anxieties. This chapter shows how The Old English Baron subverts the Walpolean Gothic and responds to the Enlightenment drive to secularise the historical cause.

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Sinister histories

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


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