Contesting the gothic by James Watt

By James Watt

This traditionally grounded account of Gothic fiction takes factor with bought debts of the style as a strong and non-stop culture. Charting its vicissitudes from Walpole to Scott, Watt indicates the Gothic to were a heterogeneous physique of fiction, characterised every now and then through opposed kin among writers or works. Watt examines the novels' political import and concludes via looking forward to the fluctuating serious prestige of Scott and the Gothic, and perceptions of the Gothic as a monolithic culture, which proceed to exert a robust carry.

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Yet it is historically inaccurate to elevate Walpole’s probable sexual orientation above his social class as a determinant upon his work, and it is important, moreover, to take account of the fictionality of the ‘aristocratic’ identity which Walpole sought to fashion. From John Pinkerton’s Walpoliana () onwards, biographers have portrayed Walpole as an archetypally . ⁵⁰ Despite the superficial attractions of such a generous approach, narratives of extrapolitical diversion tend to ignore the extent to which Walpole’s aristocratic identity was a construct, which he had continually to rehearse, and tend to neglect the sometimes precarious nature of the position which Walpole cultivated.

Origins: Walpole and The Castle of Otranto  examine Walpole’s most famous work, The Castle of Otranto, and seek to complicate the myths of origin that it sponsored. The most common literary-historical explanation of Otranto’s genesis remains the one offered by the work’s second preface: Walpole was fearful of being ridiculed for his presumption, and therefore sought a means by which to shelter his daring until a time when he could safely claim responsibility for his audacious experiment. Otranto has often been viewed in connection with the influence of Burkean theories of sublimity or with the emergent Gothic aesthetic defined by contemporaries such as Richard Hurd, and further regarded both as one of the first works of historically minded fiction and as a manifestation of a long-confined ‘unreason’.

Of these few facts we could have the most authentic attestations of several clergymen, who remember to have heard them repeated by old men long before they, the said clergymen, were born. We do not trouble the reader with these attestations as we are sure every body will believe them as much as if they had seen them. ⁸⁴ Along with all the evidence considered so far about Walpole’s relation to antiquarianism and the romance revival, the quotation above provides an especially useful perspective on the meaning of terms such as ‘fancy’, ‘imagination’, and ‘the Gothic’ in Walpole’s work.

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