Gap in the Literature – Economic Precarity and the Gothic Novel part 1: Walpole

It’s possible this scholarship is out there and I just haven’t found it. But I don’t see a lot about economic precarity and the Gothic novel.

Let me start with Walpole.

While Walpole lived a life of privilege and doesn’t seem to have faced any real financial crisis in his life, he lived in a world of economic precarity. He had acquaintances who went to debtor’s prison. He was often mocked for using cheap materials to fulfill his vision of Strawberry Hill House (some elements were constructed with papiermâché, or illusions were added with trompe-l’œil methods). His aspirations were bigger than his budget. So, while economic hardship never seriously disrupted his life, he was surrounded by it.

Perhaps it’s this environment that led him to be fascinated by old castles and the ghosts that haunt them.

Walpole’s dream of a romantic past is saturated with wealth. It takes a lot of money and human resources to build and maintain a castle. One (or many) must be able to marshal daily meals for the work force and for the working animals. You have to pay the crafts people. You have to be able to protect everyone and everything. Walpole’s Castle of Otranto contains a yearning for power, and the wealth that allows one to achieve that power.

This yearning for wealth and power became one of the principle tropes of the Gothic novel. Perhaps the most significant trope. We see it thread its way through almost every Gothic work and adapted by romance works targeted to female audiences.

Some women facing personal economic precarity were able to find success through writing gothic. And other women, also confronted with economic precarity, turned to the fantasies of glorious wealth to escape the reality of their own financial limits.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m going to turn to the following in the next few posts.

Next: Women consume a lot of works addressing economic precarity and fantasies of escaping into economic security.

Next: Ann Radcliffe Makes Bank

Next: Banditti Are Everywhere

Next: Gothic Writers Doing It For The Money

Next: Mid-20th Century Gothic Obsession with Stuff and Things Rich People Have

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