Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 July 2020
Horace Walpole is pivotal to the early Gothic Revival as the author of what has long been hailed as the first Gothic novel, and as the creator of the most influential of all early Gothic Revival houses. This essay explores his intuitively imaginative response to Gothic, and how his love of the decorative profusion and allusive richness that it could offer was played out in his novel The Castle of Otranto (1765) and his play The Mysterious Mother (1768) – as well as in in his ‘castle’ at Strawberry Hill. That house, with its subtle management of scale, colour and light, and in the suggestive riches of the collection it contained, created a heady mixture of fantasy and atmosphere, displaying an historically informed but archaeologically unrestrained imagination. These are qualities that it shared with Walpole’s Gothic fictions. There is hardly a feature of Gothic romance that does not appear in Otranto, and its gloomy castle, predatory patriarch and pursued virgin, along with the guilt-tormented Countess and evil friars of The Mysterious Mother, like the Gothic battlements and evocative interiors of Strawberry Hill, engendered a lasting and pervasive progeny.