English Research Seminars Series – Dr Dale Townshend – Wednesday 9th March
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.
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