Sinister histories

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

Author: Jonathan Dent

‘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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