This article reads Lovecraft's weird fiction in relation to his historically minded eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century precursors. In his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927) the first text Lovecraft focuses on at length is Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1764), a supernatural tale that, he claims, exerted a virtually unparalleled influence on weird literature. Forming a distorted mirror image of Georg Lukács's description of Otranto as a piece of costumery that nonetheless became the most famous historical novel of the eighteenth century, Lovecraft's equivocal praise places Walpole in a tradition of cosmic horror that also includes Clara Reeve, William Godwin, and Walter Scott. Yet the relationship between Lovecraft's fiction and these earlier writers of historical fiction has been more assumed than explored. Aware of history as a malleable and potentially destructive force, these precursors search for an alternative tradition to the “divine right” of kings on which to base the British constitution. In the process they both interrogate the idea of Anglo-Saxon liberty and exploit the progressive narratives of stadial history. Lovecraft follows their historical experiments in search of liberty, constructing a prosthetic past in an attempt to interpret the American people and their Constitution. Despite Lovecraft's horror of labor unrest and miscegenation, his racist political vision is as a result haunted by the radical and progressive potential of these past traditions.

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