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Title: 'This is a dark story' : representations of the past in eighteenth-century Gothic literature (1764-1794)
Author: Dent, Jonathan
Awarding Body: Loughborough University
Current Institution: Loughborough University
Date of Award: 2012
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This is a dark story: Representations of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Gothic Literature (1764-1794) contends that the Gothic can be read as a complex reaction to Enlightenment methods of historical representation. It discusses the ways in which both familiar (such as David Hume s The History of England, 1754 62) and lesser known historical works (such as Paul M. Rapin de Thoyras s History of England, 1721 31) influenced and shaped the genre, uncovering in the process hitherto neglected relationships between Gothic fiction and prominent works of eighteenth-century history. As well as discussing established Gothic novelists such as Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, the thesis breaks from tradition by devoting chapters to Clara Reeve and Sophia Lee, important women writers whose works are often ignored or marginalised in discussions of the genre s origins. Emphasising the heterogeneity of the Gothic in the eighteenth century, it shows how, although writers employ and develop similar tropes, they use them for diverse ends. Gothic pasts are sites of intense conflict, with authors (particularly female ones) often writing fictional histories to comment on pressing socio-historical issues. Tracing the Gothic s development from Walpole to Radcliffe (and beyond), this thesis goes on to re-evaluate the literary implications of the French Revolution. Suggesting new areas of enquiry for Gothic scholarship, it argues that the transgressions taking place in France shattered Enlightenment models of historical understanding and that historical discussion moved from multi-volume tomes to the domain of the political pamphlet. Contending that the Gothic reacts to changing conceptions of history and the past at this time, it maintains that the French Revolution caused the Gothic to develop and exhibit a heightened state of historical consciousness. Furthermore, the thesis demonstrates how the settings of Gothic narratives move forward in historical time throughout the eighteenth century, arguing that the turbulent context of the 1790s provides an explanation for this tendency. With the Revolution in France consuming itself in the Terror, and the British government passing oppressive legislation in order to prevent a similar uprising in England, it is argued that the present had become a more frightening place than the past, and that, because of this, Gothic fiction became increasingly willing to jettison historical and geographical displacement. Although Gothic attitudes towards the past continued to be influenced by the genre s earlier contentious relationship with Enlightenment historiography, Gothic narratives became less dependent on history as a site of terror, and began to situate themselves ever-closer to the present, with significant repercussions for the genre throughout the nineteenth century.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available