Contested Pasts: David Hume, Horace Walpole and the Emergence of Gothic Fiction

By Dent, Jonathan | Gothic Studies, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Contested Pasts: David Hume, Horace Walpole and the Emergence of Gothic Fiction


Dent, Jonathan, Gothic Studies


In recent years, Gothic criticism has witnessed a resurgence of historicized readings of texts.1 The Gothic is everywhere fascinated by the past and, whilst this renewed focus recognizes the importance of historical context, little attention has been paid to how such texts actually construct the past and, moreover, the relationship between early Gothic and eighteenth-century historical writing. This article seeks to address this rather neglected issue by examining the complex, often antagonistic relationship between Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) and David Hume's The History of England (1754-62). As I will discuss in more detail later, Walpole had read numerous volumes of Hume's history before writing Otranto, the first Gothic novel. Reassessing the significance of the Gothic in the eighteenth century, this article discusses the extent to which Walpole's Gothic novel can be viewed as a bold response to, and critique of, Hume's historiography.

Hume and Walpole, two men absorbed by contemplating the past, were writing in an era where interest in the past flourished. Antiquarians were uncovering and preserving textual and physical remains of Britain's history.2 As Rosemary Sweet highlights, the emergence of Enlightenment 'philosophical' histories focusing on diverse aspects of society challenged the long standing Ciceronian notion that history was only concerned with high politics and demonstrated that historiography could appeal to readerships beyond the political elite.3 History was undergoing fundamental epistemic changes in the eighteenth century and Walpole and Hume played a significant role in the discussion and development of historical theory. Published between 1754 and 1762, Hume's The History of England spans six volumes, covering from the invasion of Julius Caesar to the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. With seven complete editions during his lifetime and one hundred and seventy-five in the century after his death, Hume's multi-volume work was immensely successful. Focusing more on the manner of telling than on precise scholarship, Hume's work demonstrates how history was considered as a branch of rhetoric rather than as a distinct discipline in the eighteenth century. With the emergence of Gothic fiction (in the form of Otranto) two years after the publication of the final volume of Hume's History, the relationship between history and literature became even more indistinguishable and convoluted, as we will discuss. In order to fully assess the extent to which Otranto can be considered as a reaction to The History of England, it is necessary to begin with an examination of Hume's history and the narrative strategies that underpin it.

As Leo Braudy highlights, Hume is concerned with history as a literary problem and focuses specifically on how the past comes to be written.4 History, Hume proposes, must have a design, a narrative form that emphasizes continuity. Seemingly 'different and unconnected' past events must be 'comprehended in this design', because, 'amidst all their diversity', they still have a 'species of unity'.5 For Hume, historiography must unearth lines of causation: the unity of seemingly disparate occurrences must be traced from their origins to their 'most remote consequences'.6 In a coherent and chronological narrative design, history should 'discover the constant and universal principles of human nature' by 'showing men in all varieties of circumstances and situation'.7 By implying that there is a relationship between human nature and a broad range of public events, the analysis of eminent characters provides a form of causal explanation in The History of England, at least in the Stuart volumes. For example, 'wild' in his 'conduct' and 'unrestrained either by prudence or principle', the Duke of Buckingham's character is closely linked to his involvement in certain historical events.8 Without even considering alternative causes (such as social and political), Hume argues that it is Buckingham's impulsiveness, his lack of 'secrecy and constancy', that destroys 'his character in public life' (6: 240). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Contested Pasts: David Hume, Horace Walpole and the Emergence of Gothic Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.