Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2018
Controversies over the authenticity of medievalism were probably most intense and formative in the late eighteenth century. The early Gothic novel emerges during this period, a substantially new genre that rivaled neoclassical tastes and prescriptions in provocative ways. In this essay I trace some of the ways the Gothic responded to its own questionable legitimacy as a new genre. The OED lists four definitions for authenticity, an abstract noun formed in the eighteenth century from the adjective authentic. All four definitions are relevant to my analysis of Gothic authenticities below: 1. True or in accordance with fact; veracity; correctness; 2. Authoritative or duly authorized; authority (now rare); 3. With reference to a document, artifact, artwork, etc.: the fact or quality of being authentic; genuineness; 4. The fact or quality of being real; actuality, reality. My argument attempts to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Gothic engagements with authenticity through an analysis of mimesis, authority, and nationalist literary history. Early Gothic novels such as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Matthew Lewis's The Monk, and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer make profound investments in the literary authority of earlymodern writers. They also invest in iconophobic, anti-Catholic polemics that were a distinctive feature of John Foxe's Protestant martyrs to the Inquisition, Edmund Spenser's fairyland, and Christopher Marlowe's Faust. As we shall see, one of the darkest sides of this cultural inheritance – the Spanish Black Legend – also makes a deep impression on the Early Gothic.
Walpole, inventor of the Gothic novel in The Castle of Otranto (1764), exemplifies the first definition of authenticity (“true, in accordance with fact”) in his Anecdotes of Painting in England (1760): “The portrait was rather a work of command and imagination than of authenticity.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the authenticity of likenesses (in this sense) is crucial to the anamorphic portraits of Gothic fiction. The hero of Otranto, Theodore, bears an uncanny resemblance to the portrait of Alfonso the Good, a dead hero of the Crusades whose ghost steps through the frame to taunt and haunt the usurper, Manfred.