Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 July 2020
This chapter focuses on Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778), published during the early years of Britain’s war in America. It discusses how Reeve responded to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), not only by rejecting the extravagance of his work but also by situating her tale in fifteenth-century England. Attempting to recover the political significance of this decision in the context of the American war, it considers the way in which the novel offers an allusive narrative of national reconciliation and repair. Even as Reeve claimed that her ‘picture of Gothic times and manners’ served the improving purposes of ‘Romance’, however, her work also acknowledges that its resort to the Gothic past is unable entirely to escape the ‘melancholy retrospect’ of ‘History’. With Reeve’s distinction between history and romance in mind, the chapter concludes by suggesting that, through its mediation of Otranto, The Old English Baron helped to make the diverse resources of the Gothic past available to subsequent writers, and at the same time to ensure that its questioning of Britain’s Gothic inheritance remained integral to the tradition of ‘domestic Gothic’ that it inaugurated.