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Horace Walpole finishes his account of writing The Castle of Otranto (1764) with a wry look at its syntactics, confessing that late one night he “could not hold the pen to finish the sentence, but left Matilda and Isabella talking, in the middle of a paragraph.” A close look at the beginnings, middles, and ends not only of chapters but also of paragraphs and even sentences in this first gothic novel reveals syntactical passages behaving like subterranean passages. As readers, we often don’t know what’s coming until we turn the corner of the sentence and bump into it. The lack of quotation marks to distinguish dialogue (when quotation marks were entering into common use) repeatedly slides the reader down wrong turns; we mistake one speaker for another. Later editions would insert quotation marks, brightly lighting the syntactic interior. But what Walpole initiates for the gothic on the small level of typography and syntax as well as of atmosphere and plot is precisely the uneasiness of boundaries obscured and identities blurred. This chapter tracks the spatial implications of the shapes of sentences and the peculiarities of paragraphs in The Castle of Otranto to uncover a template of syntactical structures enacting gothic structures.
There are two major threads in the 350-year history of Cavendish’s literary reputation, both deriving from views of her life. In the first thread, she was a highly virtuous woman and a passionate writer, though what she wrote suffered from her poor education and lack of discipline. Her virtue was manifest in her biography of her husband and her passion, poor education, and lack of discipline apparent in her poetry. In the second and less-well-known thread, she had an eye for young men and included objectionable passages in her drama and poetry. Both threads are related to a set of categories historically used to evaluate women writers. Cavendish, thus, was like Katherine Philips who also was understood to be highly virtuous and like Aphra Behn who was thought to have written passionate but objectionable drama and verse. Largely outside of the major threads are observations offered by Samuel Pepys, who reacted to Cavendish as a celebrity. Her most important and nuanced critic was Virginia Woolf, who owed something to both threads and who wrote with a touch of irony. Evidence suggests that William Wordsworth and Horace Walpole knew and were influenced by Cavendish’s writing.
Chapter 6 deals with the visiting card as a new form of social media that anticipates the text messaging of today, exploring how its novelty caught the attention of Horace Walpole and Samuel Johnson. As a genre that was particularly invested in the representation of social life, the novel is one of the most important sources for understanding the complexities of visiting in eighteenth-century social life and textual media that facilitated and recorded it. With reference to the novels of Jane Austen and, in particular, Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee (1812), I discuss how prose fiction adapted the capacity of visiting card and other kinds of ephemeral texts in order to realise the affective power of the intimate social encounter entailed in handing over one’s card. I argue that The Absentee is exceptional as a fiction that not only utilises the visiting card but also emulates ephemerology as the Enlightenment’s other science.
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.
This chapter examines in three stages the surprisingly vital place of the Classical literatures of Greece and Rome in the development of the Gothic. First, Horace Walpole and his contemporaries Edward Young and Richard Hurd irreverently reimagined Classical antiquity not as a model of propriety and decorum, but as a grotesque realm of monsters and ghosts. Second, Clara Reeve challenged the social prejudice that accorded prestige to the masculine zone of Classical texts but not to popular literature; The Old English Baron blends a Gothic narrative with motifs from Classical historiography in order to challenge the artificial hierarchy separating the two modes. Third, writers of the Romantic age presented Rome as a haunted city, recasting the influence of Greece and Rome in spectral terms. The Gothic, it shows, is no simple departure from the Classical. Rather, the tension between the two is sustained throughout the history of the genre as one of its basic elements, and we need to restore a sense of that tension in order to understand the full force of the Gothic in the literary and aesthetic consciousness of the long eighteenth century.
The Gothic Revival is generally considered to have begun in eighteenth-century Britain with the construction of Horace Walpole’s villa, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, in the late 1740s. As this chapter demonstrates, however, Strawberry Hill is in no way the first building, domestic or otherwise, to have recreated, even superficially, some aspect of the form and ornamental style of medieval architecture. Earlier architects who, albeit often combining it with Classicism, worked in the Gothic style include Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, William Kent and Batty Langley, aspects of whose works are explored here. While not an exhaustive survey of pre-1750 Gothic Revival design, the examples considered in this chapter reveal how seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Gothic emerged and evolved over the course of different architects’ careers, and how, by the time that Walpole came to create his own Gothic ‘castle’, there was already in existence in Britain a sustained Gothic Revivalist tradition.
Written by the editors, this essay provides an Introduction to all three volumes of The Cambridge History of the Gothic. It proceeds by casting a self-reflexive glance at the notion of ‘history’ as it is represented in Gothic writing itself, arguing that, since its inception in the eighteenth century, Gothic has always occupied a fraught and complex position in relation to the practice of formal and official historiography. Second, it provides an overview of the volumes to follow, foregrounding the ways in which the essays brought together here, more than simply offering a rigorous ‘history’ of the Gothic, are preoccupied with the ways in which the Gothic has responded to, and been inscribed within, some of the determining historical events of Western civilisation, from the Sacking of Rome in AD 410 to the twenty-first century.
This chapter argues that as Shakespeare was canonised as Britain’s national poet from 1660 through to the end of the eighteenth century, so editors and critics increasingly presented him as bourgeois and respectable, minimising the plays’ barbarous violence, ghosts and witches – their ‘Gothic’ elements. Between 1764 and 1768, Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto (a novel/romance hybrid), Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third (a revisionist history) and The Mysterious Mother (a Shakespearean blank-verse tragedy), three different genres that variously appropriate and rework Shakespeare. Confronting the national poet, the argument holds, enabled him to work through his fears of illegitimacy, the sense that he had no claim to being the trueborn son of the powerful Sir Robert Walpole and the implied adultery of his beloved mother. His reading of Hamlet’s anger and loathing of his mother Gertrude’s behaviour unconsciously facilitated Horace Walpole’s invention of ‘Gothic Story’, which he located within the walls of an ancient castle haunted by the family secrets generated by the laws of patriarchy.
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