Horace Walpole, painted by John Giles Eccardt in 1754.
On 1 March, 2015 the Walpole Trust reopened Strawberry Hill House to the public. As the former home of Horace Walpole, famed (and famously eccentric) author of the first Gothic novel, the house has been a popular tourist destination since it was first built up in 1749.
At noon on 16 May 2017, twenty-three students and scholars from Cardiff University stepped blinking into the parking lot of Strawberry Hill House, out of the darkened bus that had carried them from rainy Wales. The weather in Twickenham was hardly Gothic-appropriate, but since the tour of the house had been arranged for the late afternoon, we had several hours to eat our bag lunches, stretch our legs in Strawberry Hill’s gardens, and snag a leisurely drink along the sunny banks of the Thames. By the time we returned to the House at 4pm, the group was happy, slightly sunburnt and ready to be thrilled, amazed and educated about Walpole’s ‘little Gothic castle’. Continue reading
Join the Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth-Century Seminar (CRECS) on 16 May 2017 for an exciting excursion, as we visit the Gothic Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, a modern architectural marvel. With its arches and turrets, its elaborate windows and gables, and its bone-white exterior, Strawberry Hill is a bizarre cross between a Gothic castle and a Disney one. Until 1797, it was also the home of the Gothic novelist Horace Walpole.
Constructed in stages between 1749 and 1776, Strawberry Hill has the distinction of being the first house built in the medieval style without using any old materials—a self-conscious work of Gothic fakery. This makes it the perfect match for Walpole, its original architect. Victorian scholar Thomas Macaulay famously called Walpole ‘the most eccentric, the most artificial, the most fastidious, the most capricious, of men’. Walpole was inspired to make multiple, wild renovations to Strawberry Hill during his lifetime, and the house inspired his writing in return: most famously, The Castle of Otranto (1764). Continue reading
Dale Townshend (University of Stirling) will be presenting his paper, ‘Horace Walpole’s Enchanted Castles’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 16 February 2016. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 4.43, and will be followed by a wine reception.
Ever since Horace Walpole in the second edition of The Castle of Otranto (1765) disclosed his authorship of his ‘Gothic Story’, it has been assumed that the ‘real’ and ‘particular’ castle to which he, in his guise as the ‘translator’ William Marshal, referred in the Preface to the first edition of the novel was Strawberry Hill, the ‘little Gothic castle’ in Twickenham that he had set about ‘Gothicizing’ since the late 1740s. As I seek to demonstrate in this paper, however, this is really only half of the story, for while the castle at Otranto certainly, as Walpole would later phrase it, ‘puts one in mind’ of Strawberry Hill, it also looks to the architectural formations of ‘ancient’ or ‘Gothic’ romance for its structure, its effects, and even its eventual disappearance. More specifically, I argue, Manfred’s castle at Otranto is, in a number of respects, a reworking of the trope of the enchanted castle that featured so prominently in the epic romances of Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, Edmund Spenser, and others. And if The Castle of Otranto is, indeed, closely linked to Strawberry Hill, I argue that this is not simply because Walpole ‘writes’ his home into his novel, but because both fiction and house looked to the architectural structures of medieval romance as their ultimate point of inspiration. Having explored the trope of the enchanted castle as it figures in The Castle of Otranto and Walpole’s correspondence around Strawberry Hill, I conclude by tracing its uptake in the later Gothic dramas and fictions of Miles Peter Andrews, Clara Reeve, Anna Laetitia Aikin and Ann Radcliffe. Continue reading