‘Entombed alive’
Sophia Lee’s The Recess (1783–85), the Gothic and history
in Sinister histories
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Emphasising the diversity of the Gothic genre in the eighteenth century, this chapter argues that, in The Recess, Lee hijacks certain themes from Walpole and Reeve to write a prototypical Female Gothic novel. Continuing to read the Gothic as a reaction to eighteenth-century historical writing, this chapter contends that Lee focuses on female protagonists and employs Gothic plotlines to critique the male codes of historical representation that govern David Hume’s Enlightenment historiography. Developing arguments from the previous chapter, this section shows how, in the hands of female writers, Gothic pasts often express contemporary fears and anxieties, and comment on gender politics in the eighteenth century. Drawing on Gary Kelly’s notion that the Gothic enabled women to access the male-dominated realms of history and politics, it is argued that Lee’s historically based novel utilises Gothic tropes such as concealed writings and a focus on the law to present a nightmare vision of women’s historical and social plight in the eighteenth century. Examining the complex structure of The Recess, this chapter concludes by assessing the extent to which Lee ‘Gothicises’ the eighteenth-century epistolary form, and what the novel says about the nature of the past.

Sinister histories

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


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