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Horace Walpole and the new taste for Gothic Hatch, Ronald Barry


The aim of this paper is to examine Horace Walpole's contribution to the reawakening taste for Gothic in the eighteenth century and to relate his curiously ephemeral art forms to the broad historical development of the Gothic. No attempt has been made, except in an incidental way, to treat the initial flourishing of Gothic architecture; that the reader has at least a passing acquaintance with the architecture of the Middle Ages is assumed. Instead, the emphasis has been placed upon the Gothic survival of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; as Gothic architecture was virtually eclipsed during this period, many readers may feel that this emphasis is unwarranted. However, some study of the Gothic architecture in these two centuries is necessary in order to understand how and why the Gothic took the turn it did in the eighteenth century. Chapter one is a collection of evidence to show that, despite opinion otherwise, Gothic architecture did survive as a potent force. Chapter two then proceeds to discuss Walpole's creation of Strawberry Hill and to show how the attitudes and skills of previous generations helped to mould its form. The conclusion reached is that Strawberry Hill, while Gothic in design, lacked most of the medieval Gothic spirit; that Walpole was in fact using the Gothic for a new purpose. Chapter three is again a collection of evidence, this time a survey of the prevailing trends in "Gothic" literature before Walpole. In a sense, chapter four is the culmination of this discussion of the Gothic, since here the attempt is made to show how Walpole's Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was at once clearly in the earlier traditions of a classical interpretation of Gothic, and also a forerunner of an entirely new conception of Gothic. Walpole's influence upon later writers and his indebtedness to neo-Gothicizers is made clear by juxtaposing Walpole against the later school of Gothic novelists. To avoid a repetitious summary, some attempt has been made to characterize the essential differences existing between Walpole's Gothic and that of medieval artists by linking Walpole's creations with the rococo. An equation of eighteenth century Gothic with the rococo is of course foolish, and this was never contemplated; rather, the hope was to show that much of the spirit which stimulated Walpole's artistry is also endemic to the rococo. The eighteenth century Gothic, in particular Walpole's contribution, was actually a Gothic-rococo.

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