Horace Walpole and the Fate of Finance
Abstract

Abstract:

Long before Marx said that interest-bearing capital was "something dark and mysterious," Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto (1764)—a groundbreaking gothic novel informed by early-capitalist structures of financial speculation, public credit, and other "spectral" forms of value. While Walpole has been associated with a Whig ideology that supported the advancement of England's commercial interests, this essay argues that his famous novel can also be read as a terrified response to an emerging finance economy, a development in capitalism that Walpole feared could come to dominate society. Featuring a crumbling castle and a prophecy about a lord who has "grown too large to inhabit it," The Castle of Otranto demonstrates how the discourse of rampant economic speculation—and the inevitable bursting of financial bubbles—could inscribe a new form of fate onto the generic codes of the supernatural novel.