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So, too, in the 21st century, is an entire genre of writing and film.The Castle of Otranto may be a little creaky, but it is still readable, containing a Harry Potter-like array of animated portraits, supernatural adventures in vaults and cellars and astonishing, inexplicable events.
Both are the subject of an exhibition at the V&A (Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill).His epigrams have a distinctly Wildean ring: “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think”, for example, or: “The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well”.His description of Twickenham: “Dowagers as plenty as flounders inhabit all around”, could have been uttered by a character in The Importance of Being Earnest.In a recent book, Horace Walpole’s Cat, Christopher Frayling remarks: “In many ways Walpole’s pets – dogs and cats – resembled Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited, or animate versions of Linus’s blanket.They were indeed the recipients of more genuine affection than all but a very select few of his friends.” When in February 1747 Walpole’s tabby cat, Selima, had a fatal accident in one of Walpole’s prized Chinese ceramics it became the cue for mock-tragic poetic lament, “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Bowl of Gold Fishes” by Gray.There are aspects of Walpole that bring the word “camp” irresistibly to mind.
The cult he made of his domestic animals, for example.
One can’t help suspecting that the sinister, unscrupulous, adulterous Count Manfred – the villain – owes a lot to the late Sir Robert Walpole, and his noble, mistreated wife to Lady Walpole, to whom Horace was intensely devoted. Strawberry Hill was “the scene that inspired The Castle of Otranto”.
In fact, Walpole was scarcely embroidering reality in his dream at all.
Horace – superficially at least – could scarcely have been more different.
He doesn’t seem to fit in the rational and measured 18th century at all, his tone of voice can be closer to Oscar Wilde or Max Beerbohm.
His house – though much more architecturally distinguished – was in some ways a theatre or cinema set for a gothic horror movie.