The gothic novel in Ireland, 1760–1830 offers a compelling account of the development of gothic literature in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Ireland. Against traditional scholarly understandings of Irish gothic fiction as a largely late-nineteenth century development, this study recovers to view a whole body of Irish literary production too often overlooked today. Its robust examination of primary texts, the contexts in which they were produced, and the critical perspectives from which they have been analysed yields a rigorous account of the largely retrospective formal and generic classifications that have worked to eliminate eighteenth-century and Romantic-era Irish fiction from the history of gothic literature. The works assessed here powerfully demonstrate that what we now understand as typical of ‘the gothic novel’– medieval, Catholic Continental settings; supernatural figures and events; an interest in the assertion of British modernity – is not necessarily what eighteenth- and nineteenth-century readers or writers would have identified as ‘gothic’. They moreover point to the manner in which scholarly focus on the national tale and allied genres has effected an erasure of the continued production and influence of gothic literature in Romantic Ireland. Combining quantitative analysis with meticulous qualitative readings of a selection of representative texts, this book sketches a new formal, generic, and ideological map of gothic literary production in this period. As it does so, it persuasively positions Irish works and authors at the centre of a newly understood paradigm of the development of the literary gothic across Ireland, Britain, and Europe between 1760 and 1830.
‘Gothicism’, ‘historicism’, and the overlap of fictional modes from Thomas Leland to Walter Scott
This chapter considers both the overlap of gothic and historical literary modes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the representation of the past in several gothic fictions by Irish writers, including Anne Fuller, Thomas Leland, Regina Maria Roche, and James White. Comparative analysis of these works alongside more canonical ‘gothic novels’ and ‘historical novels’ by Clara Reeve, Sir Walter Scott, and Horace Walpole emphasises the continued generic overlap of apparently distinct literary classifications. Consideration of these works’ perspective on the Gothic – or broadly medieval – past further underscores the misguidedness of critical focus on gothic fiction’s nostalgic perspective on history.
Romances, novels, and the classifications of Irish Romantic fiction
This chapter assesses the terminology applied to literature now considered gothic, looking particularly at the preference for the term ‘romance’ amongst writers of what was then more commonly called ‘terrorist’ or ‘terror’ fiction. In a period of continued debates about the novel and its commitment to didactic realism, these works’ descriptions as ‘romances’ indicates their authors’ desire to appeal to their readers’ imaginations. This recourse to romance or fancy was not simply confined to the depiction of supernatural figures or events as is often understood today. Rather, as the works considered here demonstrate, romance was conceived of in a much broader fashion by eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century writers. This chapter also considers the manner in which scholarly attention to the national tale as the literary form par excellence of Irish Romantic writing suggests clear-cut demarcations of gothic and national literary modes that simply did not exist in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The cartographic consciousness of Irish gothic fiction
Within criticism of gothic literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a Catholic Continental setting has come to be defined as a near necessity. Such settings are understood to underscore British rationality and modernity by contrasting it with an atavistic Catholicism located safely outside of English – if not British – national borders. Irish gothic literature often follows in this putative pattern, including the Catholic Continent in a geography of terror from which England is notably absent. Yet, it also frequently resists a related tendency manifest in English gothic literature of this period imaginatively to map Ireland and the so-called ‘Celtic Fringe’ alongside France, Spain, and Italy, as a particularly gothic location. This chapter considers several Irish gothic texts that complicate the privileging of Catholic Continental and ‘Celtic Fringe’ settings as well as their use as a tool of British national vindication. It also assesses the privileging of travel in post-Anglo-Irish Union gothic romances concerned, like the contemporary national tale, with the geographical mapping and associated cultural vindication of Ireland.
Regina Maria Roche, the Minerva Press, and the bibliographic spread of Irish gothic fiction
Chapter four considers the materiality of Irish gothic literature, assessing the bibliographic spread of Irish gothic fiction in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Focusing on London’s Minerva Press and, in particular, the novels of Regina Maria Roche, this chapter considers the textual placement of these works – their locations within specific material and print contexts – as indicative of the geographical and ideological reach and impact of Irish gothic cultural production in the Romantic period. Through careful close reading of Roche’s novels, this chapter underlines Irish gothic writers’ contributions to a new transnational literary marketplace. Its consideration of the extensive reprint and translation history of Roche’s novels further emphasises the role to be played by Irish gothic fiction in both refining an Irish cultural nationalism informed by transnationalism and contributing to similar processes of nation-building elsewhere over the course of the nineteenth century.