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Gothic Genealogies, the Family Romance, and Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron Abby Coykendall Whatever cause there may be to blame his Machines in a philosophical or religious view, they are yet so perfect in the poetic ... and after all the various changes of times and religions, his Gods continue to this day to be the Gods of Poetry.—Alexander Pope1 Anyone familiarwith die preface to The OldEnglish Baron: A Gothic Story (1777-80) would be struck witii Clara Reeve's proprietary, yet circumspect, adoption of Horace Walpole's own "Gothic Story," The Castle ofOtranto (1764): This Story is the literary offspring of the Castle of Otranto, written upon the same plan, with a design to unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances ofthe ancient Romance and the modern Novel .... It is distinguished by the appellatíon ofa Gothic Story, being a picture ofGoüiic times and manners. I beg leave to conduct my reader back [to] the Casüe ofOtranto. The machinery is so violent, that it destroys the effect it is intended to excite. When your expectation is wound up to the highest pitch, these circumstances take it down with a witness, destroy die work ofimagination, and, instead ofattention, excite laughter.2 1 Alexander Pope, "The Marvellous Fable," preface to TheIliad ofHomer (London: Frederick Wayne, 1883), xii. 2 Clara Reeve, The OldEnglish Baron:A GothicStory (London, 1780), preface. References are to this edition, hereafter OEB. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FI CTI ON, Volume 17, Number 3, April 2005 444 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION Reeve inaugurates the now proverbial lineage of the Gotiiic genre— placing Walpole at its head and laying claim to the new literary pedigree—only to forsake the genealogy that she seems to sanction and fashion her work into exacdywhatWalpole means Otranto not to be: a plausible fiction. Swift generalizations about Gotiiic origins— even the most astute generalizations, such as "ambivalent selfparody ... characterizes the godiic from its genesis"—thus invariably come to a halt once applied to Reeve, die first to mythologize diis genesis butalso die firstto rid die Gotiiic ofits transgressive parody.3 To resolve or at least circumvent this discrepancy, those of us who research die genre tend to sandwich references to The Old English Baron between lofty examinations of Walpole's Otranto and Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries ofUdolpho (1794), making succinct yet sardonic remarks on its myriad idiosyncrasies, ifnot sidestepping it altogedier, before marching on to elucidate die Gotiiic proper. Nonetheless, however much we deride or simply disregard die strange figure that this novel makes within die Gothic canon, we continue to acknowledge , albeit often involuntarily, the profound if not seminal contribution that Reeve herselfmakes to it. For those ofus least likely to examine The Old English Baron in deptii are also those most likely to echo the memorable litany ofthe Gothic family tree delineated in diis preface, celebrating the progressive "rise" of the Gotiiic novel widi die "once upon a time" tenor more suggestive of the storybook birth of heroines dian the emergence ofan aesdietic movement.4 If for tiiis reason alone, Reeve remains instrumental to the development of die Gotiiic genre as a whole, regardless of how litde appreciated Natalka Freeland, "Theft, Terror and Family Values: The Mysteries and Domesticities of Udolpho," in Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History, ed. Peter Buss and Andrew Stott (London: Macmillan, 1999), 145. For the mythical stories of Gothic origins, see Anne Williams, "Gothic Fiction's Family Romances," in Art ofDarkness: A Poetics of Gothic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); for the so-called "rise" ofthe genre, see Maggie Kilgour, TheRiseofthe GothicNovel (NewYork: Roudedge, 1995). David H. Richter's Progress ofRomance:Literary Historiography and the Gothic Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996), which contains litde discussion ofReeve's own Progress ofRomancedespite the appropriation ofthe title, is fairly representative. Using Reeve's favourite analogy, that of the seed for litetary influence, to omit her from the canon altogether, Richter argues that die "origins" ofthe Godiic novel "present an admirable clarity": "Beneath the paper-mâché machicolations of Strawberry Hill, the antiquarian and aesthete Horace Walpole ... created at white heat ... The Castleof Otranto" its seed having travelled "to Germany before being replanted into its native English soil" in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 443-480
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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