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

‘This is a dark story…’

Clara Reeve, The Old English Baron (1778)

Sinister Histories is the first book to offer a detailed exploration of the Gothic’s response to Enlightenment historiography. It uncovers hitherto neglected relationships between fiction and prominent works of eighteenth-century history, locating the Gothic novel in a range of new interdisciplinary contexts.

Drawing on ideas from literary studies, history, politics, and philosophy, Sinister Histories demonstrates the extent to which historical works influenced and shaped the development of Gothic fiction from the 1760s to the early nineteenth century. In moving from canonical historians and novelists, such as David Hume, Edmund Burke and Ann Radcliffe, to less familiar figures, such as Paul M. Rapin de Thoyras, Clara Reeve and Sophia Lee, this innovative study shows that while Enlightenment historians emphasised the organic and the teleological, Gothic writers looked instead at events and characters which challenged such orderly methods. Through a series of detailed readings of texts from The Castle of Otranto (1764) to Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman (1798), Sinister Histories offers an alternative account of the Gothic’s development and a sustained revaluation of the creative legacies of the French Revolution.

This book is aimed at students and scholars with interests in the Gothic, the eighteenth century, historiography, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and gender studies.

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Robert Mighall, A Geography of Victorian Gothic: Mapping Historys Nightmares; Andrew Smith, Gothic Radicalism: Literature, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the Nineteenth Century

Gothic Studies
The female ghost story

It is crucial to acknowledge the major contribution that women writers made to the ghost story during the period. The selection of authors discussed here is necessarily limited but gives a representative flavour of how women writers engaged with the specific issues of love, money, and history. There is the danger that such a thematic approach simplifies the range of the female

in The ghost story, 1840–1920
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David Hume, Horace Walpole and the emergence of Gothic fiction

Old castles, old pictures, old histories, and the babble of old people, make one live back into centuries that cannot disappoint one. Horace Walpole to George Montagu (5 January 1766) In

in Sinister histories
Representations of the past in Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778)

) This is a dark story Clara Reeve, The Old English Baron (1778) How many usurpations of provinces and kingdoms do we meet with in history without any miracle interposing to punish the usurpers? Paul M. Rapin de Thoyras, History

in Sinister histories
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Washington Irving’s Gothic afterlives

Washington Irving’s reimagining of history as a Gothic site is most evident in his best-known tales ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (1820) and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (1819). In both texts, the incessant return of the past manifests itself in the forms of ghosts or revenant figures. Irving returns to the American Revolutionary War in ‘The Legend of

in The Gothic and death
William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and the perils of the present

this sense, respond to the politics and mood of the moment. Geographical remoteness is still an important facet of these novels, but there is less emphasis on historical displacement. Indeed, the crisis in England triggered by the French Revolution accelerated the Gothic’s movement through historical time. The Gothic 1790s: Godwin, Wollstonecraft and the prisonhouse of history

in Sinister histories
The French Revolution, the past and Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791)

(1834) In the years between the publication of Sophia Lee’s The Recess (1783) and Ann Radcliffe’s third Gothic novel, The Romance of the Forest (1791), a series of events unprecedented in human history occurred; events that would alter the Gothic and the nature of history forever. ‘All circumstances taken together’, writes Edmund Burke in his

in Sinister histories
Sophia Lee’s The Recess (1783–85), the Gothic and history

. David Hume, The History of England (1754–62) The historical specificity that Clara Reeve introduced to the genre remained important in the next major work of Gothic fiction to be published after The Old English Baron . Based around the reign of Elizabeth I and the tragic history of Mary, Queen of Scots, Sophia Lee’s The Recess; or

in Sinister histories
Henry James’s Anglo-American ghosts

’s fiction is ghostly in its enigmatic impalpability, its vague precision, its subtle allusiveness, its hovering uncertainty, its fascination with awe, wonder and dread’. 4 Whilst this chapter will explore ghostly tales it will also examine the broader discourse of spectrality mapped by Edel and Lustig. However, the specific focus here on art, history, and place provides an alternative way of mapping James

in The ghost story, 1840–1920