The Politics of Gothic Historiography, 1660–1800

Authored by: Sean Silver

The Gothic World

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415637442
eBook ISBN: 9780203490013
Adobe ISBN: 9781135053062

10.4324/9780203490013.ch1

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Abstract

The Gothic did not begin as the kaleidoscopic category that it has become. It did not refer to the occult, the macabre, or the supernatural; it was not a genre of horror-driven art, a subgenre of rock music, a style of soaring architecture, or a postpunk subculture with its own recognizable fashion. Nor did it mean, simply, “of or pertaining to the Goths” — the fourth-century civilization in upper Germania — or even, more loosely, “medieval,” “antique,” or “barbaric.” In its original acceptation, the Gothic referred to a partly misremembered, partly manufactured, yet still historically potent myth of origins for the balanced model of English politics. During the century following the 1660 Restoration of the Stuart dynasty to the English throne, the Gothic, in its most important English language usage, emerged as the word that summarized a particular form of constitutional politics. It referred to a way of conceptualizing the present as the legacy of a mythologized past, a way, that is, of imagining history. We might say, then, that the Gothic did not begin as anything at all, for its ultimate origins are lost in a loose mix of myth and mystified national causes.

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