The Development of the Modern Author in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto and Strawberry Hill

By Megan E. Ritchie
2021, Vol. 13 No. 01 | pg. 1/1


Much contemporary literary criticism has been devoted to Horace Walpole’s novel, The Castle of Otranto; so, too, has much criticism been directed toward the author’s villa, Strawberry Hill. And yet the conversations surrounding these two entities have largely been kept exclusive. This article seeks to establish a relationship between The Castle of Otranto and Strawberry Hill, given that the latter was constructed at a point in literary history where writing shifts from a private patronage system, heavily linked to the physical manuscript, to a commercial economy wherein text is abstracted. Walpole’s construction of Strawberry Hill relies heavily on Lockeian rhetoric, which in turn evokes contemporary concerns of textual reproductions and replicas, reliant as the villa is upon “plagiaristic” materials. Significantly, too, it’s Strawberry Hill that is cited in the preface of The Castle of Otranto as evidence that the fictional account stems from a physical translated manuscript. Strawberry Hill therefore moves us toward a modern conception of authorship and ownership, and toward our understanding of the novel as an unstable, reader-constructed object.

There is perhaps no figure on the stage of eighteenth-century England so intriguing as that of Horace Walpole. The son of Britain’s first prime minister Robert Walpole, the Walpole junior enjoyed unusual privilege, and it is this privilege that explains his influence on the fields of antiquity and architecture as well as literature.1 The young Walpole indeed had an unusual eye for his own posterity. By eighteen, he was already planning to publish and circulate his own letters in a move to gain literary renown.2 By twenty-eight, he had begun his Memoires, which he instructed to be published posthumously.3 At thirty-two, Walpole had bought the blank cottage which he would rewrite into Strawberry Hill, a villa that would reinvigorate Britain’s appreciation for the Gothic style. And at forty-seven, Walpole sat down to write his most famous literary work, and the first Gothic novel: The Castle of Otranto.

The Castle of Otranto will serve as a focal point for this thesis, as I seek to place it in the context of its physical correspondent, Walpole’s abode of Strawberry Hill. Much criticism has been devoted to Strawberry Hill, and even more to The Castle of Otranto, but often this scholarship is kept exclusive; the two entities are considered either separately, or in disciplines outside the field of English literature. With a historical lens, then, this thesis will attempt to reconcile the two and delineate the nature of their relationship.

I am particularly invested in Strawberry Hill because it is constructed at a point in literary history where writing is being shifted from a private patronage system that is heavily linked to the physical manuscript, to a commercial economy wherein writing becomes abstracted. In order to make that shift, we see seventeenth- and eighteenth-century rhetoric adopt Locke’s idea of ownership as being based in the domestication of land. In copyright cases, especially, we see the author as likened to a landowner. This is significant in Walpole’s case because we see that his construction of Strawberry Hill both absorbs and participates in these ongoing conversations, for the construction of Strawberry Hill, reliant as it is upon “plagiaristic” materials, invokes contemporary concerns of textual reproductions and replicas. Significantly, too, it’s Strawberry Hill that’s invoked in the preface of The Castle of Otranto as evidence that the fictional account stems from a physical, translated manuscript. Here, I want to demonstrate how Strawberry Hill moves us toward a modern conception of authorship and ownership, and toward our understanding of the novel as an unstable, reader-constructed object.

Authorship and Ownership

The emergence of the novel marks a shift in the literary economy. Here, writing moves from the patronage system, which is heavily linked to the physical manuscript, to a commercial economy wherein texts, through their reproduction, become abstracted from their original manuscripts.4 In his classic essay, “What is an Author?” Michael Foucault calls this “the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences.”5 In regard to this thesis, we can recognize this individualization as the emergence of the modern notion of authorship. The Renaissance allowed for the propagation of texts in fields beyond the religious; and this propagation, facilitated by the printing press, allows for knowledge to be traced to a singular authorial identity.6 With the later materialization of the fiction novel in this increasingly commercial economy, and the development of the author’s by-line in print, authors theoretically take ownership of creative output, of “ideas, knowledge, literature,” et al.

Yet in the eighteenth century, this commercial economy and its implication of authors as owners is consistently challenged. In the popular imagination, ownership must be concrete; authors can be owners, yes, but their ownership is tied to their original, physical manuscript, not to the replicas generated by the printing press. The status of authors is yet uncertain, and it is renegotiated via copyright proceedings—so that even as the literary economy is moved from the private to public sphere, so, too, is the author figure.

Court cases track the popular view of the author figure. In 1710, in the burgeoning commercial landscape, Britain instituted the first form of copyright. The Statute of Anne, outlined partly on John Locke’s suggestions, sought to protect authors

from printers, booksellers, and other persons [who] have of late frequently taken the liberty of printing, reprinting, and publishing, or causing to be printed, reprinted, and published, books and other writings, without the consent of the authors or proprietors of such books and writings, to their very great detriment, and too often to the ruin of them and their families

by granting them the sole right to print their texts, and allowing them to seek protection for their work in court.7 And yet this copyright lacks a distinct definition of authorship; who, exactly, qualifies as an author? The statute determines that ownership lies with the author, but ultimately destabilizes authors further by referring to them in abstract terms.

The author remains ambiguous in later proceedings, as well. A law passed at the end of the previous century stated that, should a text lack attribution to an author (as often was the case with pirated editions), then authorship, and thereby, rights of ownership, legally defaulted to the publisher.8 This was upheld throughout the eighteenth century. Similarly, in 1721, only a decade after the Statute of Anne was passed, Dr. Thomas Burnet pursued a William Chetwood for unduly translating and distributing his medical text. But under the ambiguous terms laid forth by the Statute, Dr. Thomas Burnet was determined not to be the author.9 The translation was a new manuscript, a new material; therefore, it would have a new author: the translator. Likewise in 1740, bookseller Fletcher Gyles, on behalf of author Matthew Hale, pursued the publishers Wilcox and Nutt for distributing their abridgment of Pleas of the Crown; this case, too, was lost.10 An abridgment was a new material; authorship was once more traced to the generator of this new material, the abridger.

So an author in today’s sense, then, owned only the exact replica of his work, not its translation, abridgement, edited version, et cetera. Ownership was linked to the physical manuscript; property was envisioned as tangible. As Mark Rose notes in Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright, this ownership was diluted with the transfer of the manuscript into other materials via the printing press. Consequently, this definition of authorship, functional in the patronage system, stumbled when the industry expanded to the mass-scale reproduction necessitated by a commercial economy.

By the mid-eighteenth century, authors were renegotiating ownership over their works by invoking Locke’s definition of property as outlined in his Second Treatise on Government. This model of ownership is distinctly linked to Christian belief. Locke argues that

As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is hisproperty.He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common…God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth,i. e.improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was hisproperty,which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.11

So ownership is granted to man in accordance from God, as written in Genesis, and this ownership is exerted over land by its domestication. Property, then, is derived from “the labour of his body, and the work of his hands,” as Locke says, and that which “he hath mixed labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, thereby makes it his property.”12 Land, and landownership, are the primary metaphors under which the notion of property operates.

And it is this metaphor that is recalled in the anonymous Letter to an Author, written in the eighteenth century as an appeal for authors’ rights. The letter uses Locke’s terms to lay out authors’ claim to property, insisting that “there must be a fixed property in [publishing], as well as in other Cases, otherwise Learning will soon be lost, the Land of Knowledge will be left desolate; and the laying all Copies open, will have as terrible Effects in Point of Learning, as the not introducing of Property would have upon Land.”13 The language used by the anonymous author suggests that authors, in the labor of their writing, partition the imagined Land of Knowledge. In mixing labor with land, via its domestication, land becomes property; in mixing labor with knowledge by writing, text also becomes property. Later, in 1747, William Warburton’s A Letter from an Author to a Member of Parliament Concerning Literary Property will echo this rhetoric, with the insistence that “the Produce of the Mind is as well capable of becoming Property, as that of the Hand, is evident.”14 The implication here is that literary property is a product of the mind’s labor. eighteenth-century authors had equal claim, then, to the landowner, though their property was abstract.

The metaphor carried heavy implications, for if the author is conceived as being like a landowner, then, as Rose surmises, “a cottager has a right of common on the unimproved land of a manor and builds on it, the improvements will belong to the landlord because the ground is his.”15 The eighteenth-century definition of the author is null in these circumstances; translators, abridgers, or editors would not be authors, because they were not generating new material but instead making alterations to an existing one. The landowner yet remained the original author; changes made to his or her text by other figures would still belong to the author.

In shifting the rhetoric surrounding the author figure thus, the land ownership metaphor moved the idea of literary property from literal to abstract. As Rose writes, “the real-estate metaphor provided a comforting sense of weight and tangibility; however, at the same time that the discourse of literary property was acquiring metaphorical mass, it was moving away from its old foundation in the materiality of the manuscript as an object.”16 Even as the author figure was more clearly defined, his/her role was complicated as the manuscript lost relevance to his/her proprietorship, and authorship became an increasingly abstract concept.

Authoring Strawberry Hill

It was at the burgeoning of the landownership trope that Horace Walpole began his literary career. Property had not yet been entirely understood in the abstract, though it was beginning to develop under the notion; authorship was still uncertain. Walpole himself was encountering problems with the tenuous position of author as owner. In 1746, he had unwillingly had his work The Beauties published by his frequent correspondent Henry Fox.17 Opting out of the commercial literary market, Walpole had sent the verses, which praised Fox’s wife, to Fox in a letter. Fox was exceedingly pleased with the work and planned to have it published despite Walpole’s pleas against it. But having the physical writing, and by eighteenth-century thinking, therefore ownership, Fox circulated them in manuscript form and eventually published them with several changes—or “several errors,” as Walpole called them.18 In November of that year, Walpole wrote of the verses, confessing to his close friend and most frequent correspondent Horace Mann that “I never wrote anything that I esteemed less…I was hurt at their getting into print.”19

Walpole’s actions henceforth were colored by the event; from that point forward, Walpole transferred the bulk of his literary output from private circulation to the commercial economy. In 1748, he approved a partially corrected printing of his verses in the prominent London printer Robert Dodsley’s Collection of Poems.20 Even later, he would publish them on his private press, the Strawberry Hill Press, the founding of which Emma Clery traces to the piracy of his work. No doubt the event made a deep impression upon Walpole, and reframed the act of printing, and its relationship to ownership, for him.

But the clearest impact of the piracy event was found in Walpole’s creation of Strawberry Hill. Less than a year after his writing was pirated, Walpole selected Twickenham, a popular town some miles outside of London, to fashion into his family seat. At the time it was fashionable for Britain’s gentry to have a castle-like estate in the countryside—but Walpole’s choice was far from stylish. In May of 1747, he leased a small cottage dating only to the previous century, named “Chopped Straw Hall” on account of its previous owner’s frugal tendencies.

Walpole, however, had plans, and embedded in these is the rhetoric of landownership and authorship. Walpole retitled Chopped Straw Hall as the more romantic Strawberry Hill, which he would refer to henceforth as his “paper Fabric.”21 He had purchased Strawberry Hill explicitly for the blank canvas—or rather, the blank page, to complete the metaphor which Walpole initiates—that it offered. In his biography Rescuing Horace Walpole, W.S. Lewis writes that the cottage “presented no feature that needed to be retained,” and that “the plain walls and mean proportions of the house suggested a general reconstruction and an elaborate masking of Gothic adornment.” At Strawberry Hill, Walpole could overwrite “the shapeless little box” with the Gothic features which had so caught his fancy in his antiquarian studies.22

And so Strawberry Hill began its formation in text, as Walpole first imagined, then revised it in letters. Walpole formed the ironically named “Committee of Taste,” consisting of himself, amateur architect John Chute, and designer Richard Bentley, and it was through the mediations of this trio that the elements of the Gothic were imagined.23 Occasionally the three met in person; more often, the committee conferred via letter to deliberate over their plans. Chute and Bentley would send their designs in correspondence; Walpole would express his approval (“Well, how delightful! how the deuce did you contrive to get such proportion?...You shall design every scrap of the ornaments,” he writes in response to Chute’s proposal for a cloister), or offer criticism (“I have but one fault to find, and that is no bigger than my little finger”).24 In this way Strawberry Hill was as much authored as it was physically constructed. In reference to Strawberry Hill, conceptions of authorship and landownership began to merge, as the boundaries between physical and textual creation became increasingly difficult to distinguish.

Walpole furthermore linked the construction of Strawberry Hill to Lockean notions of property. Styling Strawberry Hill as “Strawberry Castle,” Walpole wrote to Montagu in 1749: “Did I tell you that I found a text in Deuteronomy to authorize my future battlements? When thou buildest a new house, then shalt thou make a battlement for the roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house, if any man fall from thence.”25 Walpole’s use of the word authorize carries significant double meaning here. There is, of course, firstly the modern sense of authorize as in to grant permission. By drawing a connection between biblical text and permission to create property via labor (“when thou buildest a new house”), Walpole’s language recalls Locke’s argument that property is derived from the Christian understanding of Genesis. Biblical text, he suggests, sanctions ownership. There is also the underlying implication that the text has the ability to write Strawberry Hill into existence, to author it as Walpole has. The statement inevitability links Walpole’s twin interests in writing and architecture. By choosing that word, authorize, Walpole adopts legal rhetoric concerning authorship and ownership, and advances it to its logical next step.

But it seems that Walpole appropriates Locke’s rhetoric of ownership in order to challenge it, for Walpole complicates a clear model of authorship. He, the landowner, does not map precisely onto the author figure. On several points Strawberry Hill lacks a single authorial identity. For one, there are Walpole’s collaborations with the Committee. Walpole is responsible for promoting a certain aesthetic in the design of his house, and certainly he owned the collections contained with the house, as well; but he rarely generated original material for Strawberry Hill. That responsibility laid instead with Chute and Bentley. So while Walpole sponsored the creation of Strawberry Hill, can he truly be said to author the house if he is only one of three writing it into existence?

Walpole’s originality is questionable even in regard to aesthetics. When Walpole wrote to Mann announcing his intentions “to build a little Gothic castle,” Mann was rather scandalized. He wrote back of his distaste: “Why will you make it Gothic? I know that it is the taste at present but I really am sorry for it.”26 The Gothic style, at that point, had already been circulated so widely as to become unfashionably middle-class.27 Walpole was appropriating an existing fad and merely revising it. Again, could he be called author?

And—most importantly—Strawberry Hill’s features were quite literally plagiarized from other homes. In that same letter to Mann, Walpole solicits for his friend’s cast-offs, for pieces from Mann’s permanent abode in Italy: “If you can pick me up any fragments of old painted glass, arms, or anything, I shall be excessively obliged to you.”28 In Walpole’s A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole at Strawberry-Hill Near Twickenham, an illustrated guide Walpole kept on-hand for tourists, he also notes that “The following collection was made out of the spoils of many renowned cabinets; as Dr. Meade’s, Lady Elizabeth Germaine’s, Lord Oxford’s, the Duchess of Portland’s, and of about forty more of celebrity.”29 Spoils and fragments: this is how Walpole characterizes Strawberry Hill, as constructed from the appropriated property of others.

Later, as Strawberry Hill evolved, it was these plagiarized features which Walpole emphasized on house tours, and it was through these features that Walpole developed a more complex vision of authorship as landownership. In A Description of the Villa, Walpole chooses to highlight a replica piece of a chimney. Designed by Bentley, Walpole notes that the chimney is designed after the tomb of archbishop William Warham at Canterbury Cathedral.30 The chimney piece, then is a copy, though it is transformed in its copy, and it is copied and thereby transformed once more as it is replicated in the image included in its description.31 Through its replications, the tombstone’s material is degraded from stone to paper, and its formal construction is equally altered at each step in the process, as it moves from tombstone to chimney piece.32 The history of the chimney piece recalls the transmutation of the manuscript in the printing press. As the original manuscript is reproduced, ownership is diluted as the author becomes increasingly difficult to identify. Ownership moves from a concrete sense of property to the more abstract, as material shifts from the sturdy stone to malleable paper.

There are great implications in these transmutations. Take, for instance, the ceiling in Strawberry Hill’s Round Room. It is said to be taken from the original round window in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.33 Walpole’s model, though, is not even a window; it is an engraved replica.34 Neither is the material stained glass, but rather traced quatrefoils, colored as to give the appearance of glass. Again there is the issue of transmutation, as there is throughout Strawberry Hill. But this case stands out, because the original model, the manuscript as it were, was no longer in existence by the time of its replication at Strawberry Hill. Old St. Paul’s burned down in 1666, nearly a century before Strawberry Hill was built; the window did not survive.35 The replica then must take precedence over the original, having nothing to be compared to; ownership, consequently, shifts away from the original creator. Walpole thereby emphasizes the transience of art, showing it to live only in its plagiarized selves, with authorship renegotiated in each replication.

Reading Strawberry Hill

A single authorial identity, then, cannot be located in the formal construction of Strawberry Hill. Instead, we can trace it to the material construction, which points to the argument made in Roland Barthes’ classic essay, “The Death of the Author.” We can use this essay, in addition to Sean Silver’s “Visiting Strawberry Hill: Horace Walpole’s Gothic Historiography” as lenses through which to view the house and its relationship to authorship. Sean Silver argues that Walpole’s collections, a hodgepodge of antiquities housed in Strawberry Hill, are designed as to suggest counter-historical narratives that resist categorization. Items, often religious artifacts or artifacts with an undeniable Christian influence, are arranged with deliberate haphazardness in order to negate an Enlightenment-era vision of linear historical progress.36 This vision of linear progress is the same one backing the contemporary understanding of ownership: that changes made to an original material are always improvements, that these improvements generate “new” material. This vision butts up against authors’ Lockean conception of authorship as adding to an existing land of knowledge, that property is derived from the generation of land via labor (in their case, writing). I argue that this latter vision of authorship is represented by Walpole in the construction of Strawberry Hill, as it is in his collections. I would like to augment Silver’s argument, too, and suggest that the nonlinear narrative suggested by Walpole’s collections can only be formed by the reader, as Barthes proposes in his rendering of authorship.37

Strawberry Hill appears, by disguising itself in late Gothic architecture, to enfold ancient northern English history in its construction. Walpole was obsessive in replicating the medieval, modelling Strawberry Hill after the aesthetic that spanned approximately the reigns of Henry III through Henry VII, or the early thirteenth through sixteenth century—though he organized these gothic elements in an eclectic and anachronistic fashion.38 Walpole writes to Mann that “as Chiswick is a model of Grecian architecture, Strawberry Hill is to be so of Gothic.”39 To these ends, Walpole added to his cottage battlements, pinnacles, stained glass, chimney pieces, turrets, arched windows, etc.—all distinctly Gothic elements, with the same particular attention paid to Christian elements in Walpole’s collections also represented in the construction of his house, as he places emphasis on features taken from cathedrals and abbeys. Before, we saw that these Gothic elements were transmuted in their construction (i.e. the transformation of tombstone to chimney piece). Now, we must also note that they were not only transformed physically, but that their material was also altered. Walpole’s replications fell short of the original, as it were, not in formal construction but in material. He relied not on stonework for his building but instead on flimsier elements: wood, plaster, papier-mâché, all materials impossible to mistake for the genuine item. As a well-connected British landowner, Walpole had the funds to create a truly imposing home, one that would more closely mimic the medieval and believably invoke the Gothic. His choice of materials, then, was aesthetic. In his material construction of Strawberry Hill, Walpole undermined ancient English history first presented by proposing a pseudo-history for his cottage that is as distressing and gauche as it is attractive to the British gentry (that would, construction of the house, and categorizing his house as “Gothick,” Walpole forces his spectators to recreate the act of reading as they attempt to derive a new historical narrative from Strawberry Hill’s supposedly Gothic elements.40

As Silver argues, Walpole’s collections at Strawberry Hill emphasize narrative gaps or absences. This lack is found equally in the construction of the house itself. Take, for instance, the entry hall of Strawberry Hill.41 This is where the house’s grand staircase (the same one referenced in The Castle of Otranto) descends, and it was and is a focal point of the Strawberry Hill tours. Here, Bentley designed tracery modelled after Prince Arthur’s chapel at Worchester Cathedral.42 The tracery was then painted onto wallpaper to mimic the original medieval stonework.43 In 1753, Walpole wrote to Mann, who, residing in Italy, had not seen (and would, in fact, never see) Strawberry Hill. Walpole offered him instead an official tour in his letter, describing what a spectator would see when approaching Strawberry Hill (“directly before it is an open grove, through which you see a field”), when entering it (“now you shall walk into the house”), and finally when touring it.44 This letter, like A Description of a Villa, closely approximates how Walpole would have desired his house to be presented. He begins first by asking the spectator (or reader, in Mann’s case) to “imagine the walls covered with (I call it paper, but it is really paper painted in perspective to represent) Gothic fretwork.”45 Walpole’s diction recalls that the house is but “paper Fabric,” its walls likened to printed text: “paper painted…to represent.” Like an asterisk or a dash obscuring a name, the wallpaper acts as a textual symbol which demands the reader’s participation in the text. To properly view the wallpaper, the viewer must reconstruct its representation. What is absent—the actual fretwork—is metamorphosed from its paper representation by the viewer. The flimsy constructions which underlie the formal appearance of the Gothic ultimately point to the spectator, who, in viewing the house, must infer the pseudo-history implied but not achieved by Strawberry Hill’s aesthetic. As Barthes writes, it is the reader, or here the spectator, who must unify the text imprinted by the author or more accurately “scriptor”;46 so we can see that Walpole is being literal when he writes in a separate letter that Strawberry Hill grants him “the satisfaction of imprinting the gloomth47 of abbeys and cathedrals” on his house; he sees the act of structural creation as akin to textual creation.48 He has written a narrative upon the walls of his home, but relies upon the spectator to perceive it.

And in addition to its physical construction, Strawberry Hill must also recreate the act of reading in the collections it contains. Like the house, Walpole’s collections evoked the medieval; but the collections were much more convincingly Gothic, and indeed, the majority of his antiquities are real. In the same letter to Mann, we can see how Walpole has organized Strawberry Hill as a succession of fakes and replicas:

The bow-window below leads into a little parlour hung with a stone-colour Gothic paper and Jackson’s Venetian prints, which I could never endure while they pretended, infamous as they are, to be after Titian, &c., but when I gave them this air of barbarous bas-reliefs, they succeeded to a miracle: it is impossible at first sight not to conclude that they contain the history of Attila or Tottila, done about the very era. From hence, under two gloomy arches, you come to the hall and staircase, which is adorned with…niches full of trophies of old coats of mail, Indian shields made of rhinoceros’s hides, broad-swords, quivers, long bows, arrows, and spears—all supposed to be taken by Sir Terry Robsart in the holy wars.49

Note firstly how Christian elements are privileged in this presentation what with Walpole’s emphasis on Robsart’s spoils from the Crusades. In doing so, Walpole characterizes the Gothic as Christian, being derived from the historic period of Catholic “barbarity,” as Richard Hurd refers to it in Letters on Chivalry and Romance, during which “the superstition of the Times… was so great that no institution of a public nature could have found credit in the world, that was not consecrated by the Churchmen, and closely interwoven with religion.”50 Indeed, Walpole’s choice of antiquities aligns his vision of the Gothic quite nearly to Hurd’s, who writes that Catholicism is “the proper origin of Justs and Turnamets [sic]; those images of war, which were kept up in the castles of the barons and, by a useful policy, converted into the amusement of the knights, when their arms were employed on no serious occasion.”51 The image of war here is religious, and, Hurd argues, innately Gothic; war images can be circulated under that category which verges on the generic even as it operates as a historical designation. By deriving his collections from that period, and yet emphasizing their superstitious elements with that “supposed,” Walpole is characterizing the Gothic as the circulation of Christian narrative, even as he simultaneously casts doubt on the historical narrative subsequently generated. The doubt surrounding the house’s authenticity shifts to the authenticity of actual Christian English history.

Note, too, that the phrase “niches full of trophies” attempts to synthesize the house with what it contains, and it extends the spectator’s disbelief regarding Strawberry Hill’s medieval authenticity to its collections. Walpole has presented each of his additions so as to suggest a small fiction: Jackson’s prints pretend to be modelled after Titian, the spoils may or may not be of Sir Terry Robsart, Walpole’s ancestor. Walpole flags the uncertainty of these elements (literally in the case of Robsart’s spoils, by italicizing the word supposed) and thereby incites doubt in the spectator. The veracity of these elements must be determined not by Walpole, but by the spectator: Walpole gives the Venetian prints “the air of barbarous bas-reliefs,” and the spectator must “conclude that they contain the history of Attila or Tottila.” Yet these deceptions are not designed to trick; after all, Walpole himself incites doubt in the reader. He, an obsessive antiquarian, must see these objects not as exclusive but inclusive to viewers as they require a spectator to read a history into an object.

This type of viewership is distinctly Gothic, and will later lend to Walpole’s generic categorization of Otranto as Gothic. Hurd writes that  

This Gothic method of design in poetry may be, in some sort, illustrated by what is called the Gothic method of design in Gardening. These walks were distinct from each other, had, each, their several destination, and terminated on their own proper objects. Yet the whole was brought together and considered under one view by the relation which these various opening had, not to each other, but to their common and concurrent center…[Spenser’s] own [method] was to interrupt the proper story of each book, by dispersing it into several; involving by this means, and as it were intertwisting the several actions together, in order to give something like the appearance of one action to his twelve adventures.[52]

Once more we see writing mapped onto land, but here, Hurd makes a significant comparison. The viewer must bring the Gothic style of architecture into union, he argues, in the same method as in poetry. This rhetoric anticipates that of Barthes’ “Death of the Author” and recalls his argument that “a text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation; but there is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we have hitherto said it was, but the reader.”53 The Gothic captures this understanding of authorship by consisting of multiple elements, each separately authored, and signaling the reader as the point of union.

This sentiment predates Walpole’s publication of his Gothic novel, but it accurately categorizes the Gothic as a style which relies upon the reader, and furthermore aligns the viewer of Gothic architecture with the reader of Gothic poetry. This vision is echoed in John Ruskin’s nineteenth-century consideration of the Gothic:

The principle difficulty in [defining the nature of Gothic] arises from the fact that every building of the Gothic period differs in some important respect from every other…it is so in a far greater degree to make the abstraction of the Gothic character intelligible, because that character is made up on many mingled ideas, and consist only in their union. That is to say, pointed arches do not constitute Gothic, nor vaulted roofs, nor flying buttresses, nor grotesque sculptures; but all or some of these things, and many other things with them, when they come together so as to have life.54

The Gothic, then, relies on the viewer’s perception to formulate a cohesive narrative. Walpole writes of Strawberry Hill that the spectator “must perceive that the [rooms] are more the work of fancy than of imitation”;55 Walpole relies on (and trusts) the perception of the viewer to separate truth from fiction. However, in doing so, he also invites their complicity in constructing a narrative.

Circulating Strawberry Hill

By circulating Strawberry Hill in its print form via letters, illustrated guides, and other advertisements, Walpole makes spectators literal readers of the house in a move that anticipates his publication of The Castle of Otranto. Walpole writes to Mann of his headway in the Strawberry Hill project in jocular language: “Mr Chute and I are come hither for a day or two to inspect the progress of a Gothic staircase, which is so pretty and so small, that I am inclined to wrap it up and send it to you in my letter.” Mann responds in equal tone: “I wish you had sent me the new staircase,” he writes, “that I might have judged of it.”56

The exchange, made in jest, touches at truth, as Strawberry Hill was increasingly recorded in print. Strawberry Hill was already unrecognizable a year after its purchase, several years before these letters were written. By that point it had already shot to public notice. In one of the earliest biographies of Walpole, written in 1851, Eliot Warburton reports that “Strawberry Hill in its new form soon became the marvel of the neighborhood—a little later became the town talk—in a short time a theme of frequent comment even in distant parts of the country.”57 Strawberry Hill’s emergence in the popular imagination was facilitated by Walpole’s own efforts. As a practiced letter-writer who aspired after Madame de Sevigne, Walpole’s words had a reach in elite British society that extended to the edges of both England and the continent.58 He took to describing Strawberry Hill to his correspondents as he did earlier with Mann, as if leading them on a tour. “You first enter a small gloomy hall,” he instructs, “you come to the hall and staircase,” et cetera.59 The descriptions, carried out in minute details, spanned pages and sponsored curiosity in their recipients. Where this failed, Walpole took to sending sketches; his joke that he ought to wrap up the staircase and send it via letter was not so far off the mark after all. In 1753, Walpole once more wrote to Mann, again to communicate the impression of Strawberry Hill. “I could not rest any longer with the thought of your having no idea of a place of which you hear so much,” writes Walpole, “and therefore desired Mr Bentley to draw you as much idea of it as the post would be persuaded to carry from Twickenham to Florence…I will try to explain as much of it to you as will help to let you know whereabouts we are when we are talking to you.”60

It was in this way that Walpole first attracted acquaintances to the house, and then, strangers: through the imprinting of the house on the popular imagination. Walpole began to advertise Strawberry Hill as a tourist destination on the London circuit, and for a guinea apiece, Walpole—or, more often, Walpole’s housekeeper—would lead curious visitors on a tour around the house.61 His endeavor to bring Strawberry Hill into renown garnered success, for Walpole was not the only one committing Strawberry Hill to print. It was also replicated in letters by visitors. Fanny Burney, accompanied by her father, Dr. Burney, writes that “Strawberry Hill was exhibited to the utmost advantage. All that was peculiar, especially the most valuable of his pictures, [Walpole] had the politeness to point out to his guests himself.”62 Caroline Lybbe Powys supposes that “there never was a house which contained so many valuable rarities.”63 Other accounts were circulated by close friends and celebrated writers Thomas Gray and Lady Mary Coke. Even the Earl of Bath dedicated a poem to the home:

Though they talk Southcote’s,
‘Tis but a dainty whim;
For ask the gallant Bristow,
Who does in taste excel,
If Strawberry Hill, if Strawberry
Doesn’t bear away the bell.[64]

Walpole’s ownership over Strawberry Hill, already destabilized by its plagiaristic nature, is further complicated as Strawberry Hill is replicated by other authors.

In 1757, Walpole made another claim toward ownership, as his circulation of Strawberry Hill took a commercial turn with the founding of the Strawberry Hill Press, housed, of course, at its namesake. The press was the first private one of any significance, and it was prolific. It was used to publish the works of Walpole’s friends (particularly the poetry of Thomas Gray), Walpole’s own memoirs and accounts, and most importantly, catalogues and descriptions of Strawberry Hill, most significantly the aforementioned A Description of the Villa.65 A Description was printed privately at first, to be distributed only to visiting tourists; in 1784, though, it would be distributed publicly.66 In the meanwhile, Walpole widely published his Catalogue of Pictures and Drawings in the Holbein Chamber (the Holbein Chamber being the most prominent room on the tour), tour tickets, and his regulations of admission, in order “to oblige any curious Persons with the Sight of his House and Collection. Any Person sending a Day or two before, may have a Ticket for Four Persons for a Day certain.”67 The printing press quickly became a way to monetize Strawberry Hill in an economy that replicated the burgeoning commercial landscape of literature. Strawberry Hill was the original manuscript (though it was of a plagiaristic nature); its image was invoked and replicated on the press, and then distributed for monetary gain. Walpole was owner of Strawberry Hill, certainly, in the economic sense of having stake in it; but again, was he author?

The Castle of Otranto

Foucault remarks on the difficulty of assigning an author to his work. “What is a work?” asks Foucault. “What is this curious unity which we designate as a work? Of what elements is it composed? Is it not what an author has written?”68 Foucault is largely referring here to that which an author generates outside of his text—“a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address or a laundry list.” But, in the case of Walpole, it’s quite easy to see how this problem also spans between authors. If this is the moment of individualization, what mechanism do we use to trace a work to a single authorial identity?

Walpole’s castle exemplifies this question. Strawberry Hill invokes the legal rhetoric which frames authorship as ownership, and yet is formulated from plagiarized material—“spoils,” as Walpole calls it. In the mid-eighteenth century, in which the definition of authorship leans heavily upon the rhetoric of landownership, Walpole’s paper construction of Strawberry Hill threatens a straightforward understanding of the novel as “real” physical property, particularly when Strawberry Hill is invoked as the real castle that grounds the fiction of The Castle of Otranto.

Strawberry Hill, in addition to being referenced within the text of The Castle of Otranto, is also the source of the novel. Walpole recounts the conception of Otranto to William Cole, writing

Shall I even confess to you what was the origin of this romance? I waked one morning in the beginning of last June from a dream, of which all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story) and that on the uppermost bannister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate. The work grew on my hands, and I grew fond of it.69

This was the summer of 1764; the novel was published on Christmas Eve of the same year. The referenced staircase is the same as the aforementioned; it is the focal point of Strawberry Hill, located in the entry hall. It is also the location for the most central scene in Otranto, which takes place much as it did in Walpole’s dream: an item from Walpole’s collection takes on gargantuan status, and crushes a princely heir, thereby disrupting a supposedly ancient family’s lineage. The theme is seconded by Walpole’s confusion of his replicated castle for the real and ancient (“I had thought myself in…”). This confusion between the “real” (with ancient, for Walpole, reading as real) and the replicated is repeated in the preface to Otranto.

Before delving further into the implications of Otranto’s preface, a brief explanation must be provided as to why this thesis privileges the paratext largely over the text of Otranto. The preface is particularly significant in the eighteenth century in that it serves as a generic marker of the Gothic.70 The novel’s preface contextualizes the role of fiction for the eighteenth-century reader; for the Gothic, this is accomplished by making claims to literary authenticity via found narratives of origin. Moreover, the preface invokes the author’s presence within the text, with this presence furthermore becoming linked to commercial motives as it seeks to cultivate a novel’s critical reception. The novel’s preface, then, is significant on two fronts: the preface collapses the distance between author and text, although the author remains primarily in the novel’s margins, so that the author now mediates the relationship between reader and text, and in invoking his/her voice in the preface, also claims ownership over the text. And finally, the preface seeks to secure a legitimate literary heritage for the Gothic novel.71

Walpole’s preface does not differ from this pattern. In this paratext, Walpole dons the guise of William Marshall, who claims to have translated the manuscript from an original account of events, which may or may not have taken place (but which he strongly suggests did).72 This original manuscript is itself produced by an “Onuphrio Muralto,” whose name is in fact a mistranslated approximation of Walpole’s.73

The original manuscript takes central importance in the preface. Walpole opens with the claim that

the following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct have nothing that savours of barbarism. The style is the purest Italian.74

The manuscript is continually referred to as proof of authenticity. The black letter is doubly evidence of its modernity (being of the printing press) and of its historicity (as a Gothic typeface, it must date to the corresponding era). The style of the black letter itself75—cramped, fluid, and cursive—developed in the early twelfth century as scribes, in response to increased demand for written texts, attempted to fit more writing onto the page.76 Later, with the invention of the printing press, it was stylized as a typeface. The black letter then signals the beginning of a shift from manuscript to commercial print culture. Like the Gothic materials of Strawberry Hill, the black letter indicates replication, and consequently the dilution of ownership as the black letter of Otranto is translated from Italian to English, and transcribed onto eighteenth-century print materials.

Note, too, how the black letter, a Gothic typeface, is linked doubly to the Catholic faith and to print culture. The black letter is derived from the family of scripts used to write the textus of the Bible, and also indicates the adoption of the printing press first used to circulate the Catholic bible.77 Italy and its Catholicism are subsequently marked (both explicitly, with the reference of Naples, and indirectly, as with Walpole’s adoption of an Italian name) as a generative site of superstition (“The principal incidents [of the text] are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity’). Like Robsart’s crusade spoils, this is something of a religious artifact; and also like Robsart’s crusade spoils, they have an uncertain historical narrative. Where the spoils of the crusade are “supposed” according to a Christian narrative, the contents of Otranto provoke doubt precisely because of their association with Catholic faith, particularly the malignant “artful priest.” Both work to destabilize a Christian historical narrative.

As the preface progresses, the act of reading increasingly comes to mimic the act of faith. Walpole again evokes historicity, writing that “letters were then in their most flourishing state in Italy, and contributed to dispel the empire of superstition.”78 The rhetoric of landownership is used again to describe authorship: the “empire of superstition” stands against the land of knowledge. The empire of superstition implies urbanity and religious construction; the land of knowledge, in contrast, stands as organic and pre-existing, with the empire imposed upon it. Walpole claims that writing annexes the empire of superstition and generates new property within the land of knowledge—but he issues a caveat. He writes:

It is not unlikely, that an artful priest might endeavor to turn their own arms on the innovators; and might avail himself of his abilities as an author to confirm the populace in their ancient errors and superstition…Such a work as the following would enslave a hundred vulgar minds, beyond half the books of controversy that have been written from the days of Luther to the present hour.79

Here, Walpole presents writing as regressive. The modality of reading associated with fiction is, like Catholic superstition, a belief-without-seeing. The author merges with the priest figure, as both ask for belief to be inferred from the text by the reader.

Significantly, the priest-author figure transgresses the paratext, appearing in the text as the friar. In one scene in particular, the friar is revealed to have authority over Otranto’s narrative:

As [Theodore] stooped, his shirt slipped down below his shoulder, and discovered the mark of a bloody arrow. “Gracious heaven!” cried the holy man, starting; “what do I see? It is my child! It is my Theodore!...Oh, God!” said the holy man [to Manfred], “dost thou question his being mine? Could I feel the anguish I do if I were not his father?80

In a narrative cluttered with fabulous plot points, it is this scene that draws skepticism from a reader. A reader can skim over the ghost, the giant, the fallen helmet, et cetera without doubt because (to reference Catherine Gallagher’s argument) these elements are “poesy”—but this scene, because it adopts the form of realism, begs a scrutiny by the fact that the friar may or may not be lying.81 His motives are certainly suspicious, and the reference to the arrow mark is unanticipated: the significance of this mark is unknown, beyond the meaning that the friar has assigned to it. And instead of offering explanation for his apparent paternity—reasonable, given his expected celibacy—he relies on what Thomas de Quincey terms pathetic appeal:82 “Could I feel the anguish I do if I were not his father?”

A curious question to ask, because it shifts the reader to Manfred’s position—inserting the reader into the text, or rather inscribing the reader, as Barthes proposes.83 The question is never answered by Manfred, and so it must therefore be answered by the reader. The friar, in posing the question, and in assigning significance to the unknown mark, adopts an internal authorial identity that mirrors that of the artful priest. And yet this artful priest, Walpole warns, is not to be trusted; he can “enslave a hundred vulgar minds.” This rhetoric is aligned with popular sentiment of the Enlightenment. In the Enlightenment, an era of increasing skepticism, writing, and in particular the fiction novel must be received with doubt, as Christian belief was.84 By slotting his text into an earlier era, Walpole roots the novel in superstition even as he asks for the fictive elements to be received without doubt. Walpole’s obsession with the Gothic now appears more to be an obsession with narrative’s reliance on the reader, an obsession that feeds smoothly into Walpole’s interests in antiquity, historiography, and the epistolary.

And yet Walpole does substantiate the readers’ belief, albeit by invoking the plagiaristic and modern paper structure of Strawberry Hill. At the close of his preface, Walpole writes that

Though the machinery is invention, and the names of the actors imaginary, I cannot but believe that the groundwork of the story is founded on truth. The scene is undoubtedly laid in some real castle. The author seems frequently, without design, to describe particular parts. ‘The chamber,’ says he, ‘on the right hand;’ ‘the door on the left hand;’ ‘the distance from the chapel to Conrad’s apartment:’ these and other passages are strong presumptions that the author had some certain building in his eye.85

Of course, the castle is real (though only in the sense that there is an actual physical building which resembles a castle); the author is, in fact, referring to “some certain building.” Here, Walpole merges his self with the “author,” that “artful priest,” though this fact will not be revealed for several more months with the release of Otranto’s second edition. He momentarily drops his guise by admitting that the author does indeed have “some certain building” in mind. The distance between his guise as translator, and his true role as author, collapses—unbeknownst to the reader—at the point of reference to Strawberry Hill, and the authorial function is relocated away from the preface to “this certain building.” Gerard Genette’s definition of the paratext suggests that the paratext generates the image of the author responsible for it.86 If this is the case, then the image generated is not of the author of Otranto, nor of the “artful priest”; rather, it is the author of Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill then becomes a paratext according to Genette’s requirement for the paratext to “enable a text to become a book and be offered as such to its readers,” and furthermore “provide a better reception for the text and a more pertinent reading of it.”87The paper construction of Strawberry Hill prepares the reader to discern Otranto with greater clarity. We must, then, read Otranto through the lens of Strawberry Hill as we seek to locate an authorial identity, and consequently, an ownership of the text—and we can also see how that authorial identity may be assigned to the reader.

The Second Edition

Walpole’s release of a second edition of Otranto determines authorial identity once and for all. Following the commercial success of his novel, Walpole republished it only months later, but this time with a preface that admits the farce.88 It is an experiment remarkably like that put forth by David Hume in A Treatise of Human Nature. In his discussion of belief, Hume proposes that “if one person sits down to read a book as a romance, and another as a true history, they plainly receive the same ideas, and in the same order…the latter [will yet have] a more lively conception of all the incidents,” while the former “can receive little entertainment from it.”89 The sentiment echoes the first edition preface’s closing lines: “If a catastrophe, at all resembling that which [the author] describes, is believed to have given rise to this work, it will contribute to interest the reader, and will make The Castle of Otranto a still more moving story.”90 Now, Hume is not arguing here that a text is constructed by the reader, but his theory does pre-empt the conception, as Walpole’s subsequent publications indicate.

The first edition Otranto is marketed as a “Story, Translated” by William Marshal and, in addition to record book sales, was received relatively well by critics.91 The Critical Review related that “the characters are well marked, and the narrative kept up with surprising spirit and propriety,” while John Langhorne writes in The Monthly Review that Otranto’s “unchristian doctrine” can be excused because it is yet “a work of genius, evincing great dramatic powers, and exhibiting fine views of nature, the Castle of Otranto can still be read with pleasure.”92 As a history, Langhorne and other critical readers find Otranto’s absurdities forgivable on the grounds of the author’s ancient context.

Walpole’s second edition disrupts their perception. Walpole rebrands his novel as The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story.93 By characterizing the narrative as Gothic, Walpole reconfigures the historical designation of the Gothic into a generic category. This generic category was anticipated by Hurd, who writes that

When an architect examines a Gothic structure by Grecian rules, he finds nothing but deformity. But the Gothic architecture has its own rules, by which when it comes to be examined, it is seen to have its merit, as well as the Grecian. The question is not, which of the two is conducted in the simplest or truest taste: but whether there be not sense and design in both, when scrutinized by the laws on which each is projected. The same observation holds of the two forts of poetry. Judge of the Faery Queen by the classic models, and you are shocked with its disorder: consider it with an eye to its Gothic original, and you find it regular.94

Hurd is arguing here for the categorization of works (and, quite relevantly, simultaneously mapping textual creations onto the architectural), for works to be evaluated against pattern—hence, Walpole’s formation of a new genre, the Gothic, in anticipation of critical response. But the Gothic is not (at least in this point in literary history) of a set type. Rather, the Gothic for Walpole captures a mixture of all things plagiaristic, a union which can only be put into frame by the reader.

The Gothic furthermore recalls a time when oral storytellers held a high status and great ownership over their works. Hurd writes that, in the Gothic age, “The passion for adventures, so natural in their situation, would be as naturally attended with the love of praise and glory.’ Hence the same encouragement, in the old Greek and Gothic times, to panegyrists and poets, the Bards being as welcome to the tables of the feudal lords.”95 Walpole aligns the Gothic genre with the historical designation by, again, merging the author with the artful priest who “enslaves.” The Gothic author adopts supernatural elements and dramatic tension to enrapture the reader and elevate their own position in a period where the author as owner is uncertain. The Gothic signals a time of oral storytelling that predates printing, a time when ownership could not be directly attributed to storytellers precisely because there was no physical manuscript. The repetition of oral stories recalls the replication of the physical manuscript, wherein the meaning of the original is transfigured over time.

Simultaneously, Walpole is drawing upon the Gothic’s relation to the black letter, and by association, to Catholic superstition. In this new context, Walpole reveals himself as the artful priest; his readers, then, are the “hundred vulgar minds.” This relocation of genre from actual account to the Gothic, and thereby fictive, novel is confirmed within the preface. In the preface, too, Walpole reveals Otranto to be, like Strawberry Hill, a plagiaristic construction characterized by near-obsessive unoriginality. This, too, is a feature of the Gothic according to Hurd, who notes that “in all these respects Greek antiquity very much resembles the Gothic. For what are Homer’s Laestrigons, and Cyclops, but bands of lawless savages, with, each of them, a Giant of enormous size at their head? And what are the Grecian Bacchus, Hercules, and Theseus but Knights-errant, the exact counter-parts of Sir Launcelot and Amadis de Gaule?”96 The Gothic builds upon an ever-shifting canon, a pre-existing “land” which consists of Milton and Spenser, who themselves borrowed from classicism. So Walpole’s designation of his story as Gothic captures this meaning, and he even flags Shakespeare as the original generator of Walpole’s narrative. “The great master of nature, Shakespeare, was the model I copied,” writes Walpole, and indeed Otranto is mapped onto preceding works.97 The novel follows the five-act structure of the tragic drama, with the fifth act closely modelled after the Shakespearean tragedy, in which the stage is gradually deprived of its actors.98 So too are Walpole’s comic characters modelled after Shakespeare: “If his tragedies of Hamlet and Julius Caesar would not lose a considerable share of their spirit and wonderful beautiful, if the humour of the gravediggers, the fooleries of Polonius, and the clumsy jests of the Roman citizens, were omitted, or vested in heroics?”99 The supernatural elements, particularly the use of a ghost, are also cited as originating from Hamlet, Macbeth, and other tragedies.100 As at Strawberry Hill, Walpole has collected and repurposed Gothic elements in order to form a narrative that a reader must infer. In creating “a new species of romance,” as Walpole claims, he is in fact only “blend[ing] the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern.”101 Otranto is plagiaristic in a model that echoes that of Strawberry Hill; both “authors” build upon a land of knowledge, and both divest themselves of ownership.

Ownership, once more, is relocated to the reader as demonstrated by the critics’ reception of the second edition. Langhorne retracts his view and replaces it with a scathing one. “When this book was published as a translation from an old Italian romance,” Langhorne writes,

we had the pleasure of distinguishing in it the marks of genius, and many beautiful characteristic paintings…While we considered it as such, we could readily excuse its preposterous phenomena, and consider them as sacrifices to a gross and unenlightened age.—But when, as in this edition, the Castle of Otranto is declared to be a modern performance, that indulgence we afforded to the foibles of a supposed antiquity, we can by no means extend to the singularity of a false taste in a cultivated period of learning. It is, indeed, more than strange, that an Author, of a refined and polished genius, should be an advocate for re-establishing Gothic devilism!102

Langhorne takes issue with the fact that there is no black letter, no original manuscript for this novel to draw upon; he has been revealed to be the superstitious reader, placing belief in Gothic elements. Langhorne’s reception of the edition positions Otranto as two separate and irreconcilable objects, though their material is static albeit the altered paratexts. Barthes’ conception of authorship is confirmed, then, with the arrival of the Gothic novel.

Langhorne’s discomfort with Otranto’s relocated genre furthermore belies his concerns with ownership. The Gothic is categorized by what Hurd refers to as its “constant mixture, which the modern critic esteems so monstrous, of pagan fable with the fairy tales of Romance.”103 Ownership, here, is impossible to trace to a single original manuscript, as this “mixture” implies.

This mixture, too, undermines a model of the novel as generating new ground in a land of knowledge, and instead frames writing as innately plagiaristic because it builds upon pre-existing work. A work cannot be traced to a single authorial identity, as it is continually replicated; it cannot, then, be traced to a single owner save the reader. In presenting Otranto as Gothic in his second preface, and thereby categorizing his novel in the same genre as Strawberry Hill, Walpole demonstrates the fallacy of envisioning the novel as stable and material. Instead, the critical reception of Otranto supports a model in which the novel, in its changing perception, is continually reconstructed by the reader who must then take a position of ownership.


To conclude, I would now like to reiterate my central argument and elaborate on several elements that this thesis has touched upon. There is firstly the matter of conceptions of authorship and ownership in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Authorship, in a newly commercial literary economy, tangentially implied ownership. However, authorship-as-ownership was complicated by the very economy which sanctioned it, for the textual replications of a text, formulated via the printing press, diluted ownership by moving away from a physical manuscript, to which an author’s ownership was linked. This dilution of ownership, and shift toward a conception of the text as intellectual, not physical, property was anchored by comparisons of authorship to landownership.

However, Walpole’s construction of Strawberry Hill countered this conception of authorship as likened to landownership. Yes, Walpole framed Strawberry Hill as a textual creation, his “paper Fabric,” but he significantly problematized his authorship (and thereby ownership) over Strawberry Hill by relying on plagiaristic elements, letting visitors “author” Strawberry Hill into renown, and relocating authorial identity to the spectator, or, to consummate his metaphor of Strawberry Hill as printed paper, the reader.

Moreover, Walpole frames Strawberry Hill as his “Gothick castle,” a term which links the Gothic to its plagiaristic nature (the retelling and reformulation of stories in the Gothic period), its superstitious elements (the act of reading likened to the act of faith), and finally the shift to the printing press (which replicates the original, physical manuscript to which the author’s ownership is linked). All of these gothic elements work to underscore the reader’s authorship, and therefore ownership, of the text.

Later, after Walpole has positioned Strawberry Hill as a paratext to Otranto, this definition of the Gothic will contribute to Walpole’s generic categorization of his novel as a “Gothic Story.” By categorizing it so within the paratexts, Walpole argues that the boundaries between texts are mobile, and therefore a work cannot be reduced to a single unit (as Foucault argues), nor can it be traced to a single authorial identity. Instead of a model wherein the author garners ownership over a text by breaking new ground in the “land of Knowledge” via writing, the author continually builds upon an ever-shifting textual canon, and therefore cannot be attributed ownership at all.

Instead, ownership lies with the reader, who as demonstrated by Strawberry Hill, must continually reconstruct a text’s narrative. This conception of authorship moves us toward our modern understanding of the novel as an unstable material. Most significantly, however, Walpole’s constructions establish that what Barthes refers to as the death of author, or the relocation of authorship to the reader, is not a recent development but an established generic feature of the novel.


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Yeager, Stephen. “Gothic Paleography and the Preface to the First Edition of The Castle of Otranto.Gothic Studies 21, no. 2 (2019): n.p.


1.) W.S. Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 24.

2.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace, 112. On May 2nd, 1736, Walpole wrote to close friend and Eton schoolmate George Montagu, demanding his letters be returned. This was a pattern Walpole would repeat for the remainder of his life as he collected thousands of his own letters, to be published later by none other than himself. Similar ventures would be undertaken throughout his life, all in aspiration of a literary immortality he perhaps best achieved with Otranto.

3.) Ibid. His first attempt, a document of twenty pages, contains an introduction in which Walpole “addresses Posterity, and proclaims to that unborn audience his disinterested motives and the accuracy of his statements of fact.”

4.) Christopher Flint, The Appearance of Print in Eighteenth-Century Fiction (London: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 34.

5.) Michael Foucault, “What is an Author,” in Modernity and its Discontents, eds. J. Marsh, J.D. Caputo & Westphal (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992), 299.

6.) Martin Elsky, “Print and Manuscript: Bacon’s Early Career and the Occasions of Writing” in Authorizing Words: Speech, Writing, and Print in the English Renaissance (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1989), 186.

7.) Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1993), 49.

8.) Rose, Authors & Owners, 51.

9.) Rose, Authors & Owners, 53.

10.) Rose, Authors & Owners, 54.

11.) John Locke, Second Treatise of Government. Gutenberg Project. March 23, 2020.

12.) Ibid.

13.) Rose, Authors & Owners, 57.

14.) Rose, Authors & Owners, 72

15.) Rose, Authors & Owners, 57.

16.) Ibid.

17.) Emma J. Clery, “Horace Walpole, the Strawberry Hill Press, and the Emergence of the Gothic Genre,” Arts & Humanitas 4, no. 2 (2010): 96.

18.) W.S. Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 112.

19.) Ibid.

20.) Clery, “The Strawberry Hill Press,” 97.

21.) Lewis, “Rescuing Horace Walpole,” 214. Walpole goes on to call Strawberry Hill his “plaything” and “toy”; these pet names mimic the same playful approach he takes to The Castle of Otranto.

22.) Ibid.

23.) R.W. Ketton-Cremer, Horace Walpole: A Biography (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1996), 130.

24.) George E. Haggerty, Horace Walpole’s Letters: Masculinity and Friendship in the Eighteenth Century (Lanham: Bucknell University Press, 2011), 73.

25.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 89

26.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 119.

27.) Clery, “Strawberry Hill Press,” 96.

28.) Ibid.

29.) Horace Walpole, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole, Youngest Son of Sir Robert Walpole Earl of Orford, at Strawberry-Hill, near Twickenham. With Inventory of the Furniture, Pictures, Curiosities, &c. (Twickenham: Strawberry Hill, 1786), 37

30.) See Figure 1 in the appendix.

31.) See Figure 2 in the appendix.

32.) See Figure 3 in the appendix.

33.) Matthew Reeve, “Gothic Architecture, Sexuality, and license at Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill,” Art Bulletin, 95 (2013): 420.

34.) See Figure 4 in the appendix.

35.) Reeve, “Gothic Architecture,” 421.

36.) Sean R. Silver, “Visiting Strawberry Hill: Horace Walpole’s Gothic Historiography,” Eighteenth Century Fiction 21, no. 4 (2009): 564.

37.) Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image-Music-Text transl. by Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 147.

38.) Stephen Clarke, “‘Lord God! Jesus! What a House!’: Describing and Visiting Strawberry Hill,” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 33, no. 3 (2010): 360. Walpole is referring to Chiswick House, which was (and is) a neo-Palladian villa located only a few miles from Strawberry Hill.

39.) Haggerty, Horace Walpole’s Letters, 72.

40.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 112.

41.) See Figure 5 in the appendix.

42.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 118.

43.) See Figure 6 in the appendix.

44.) Ibid.

45.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 120.

46.) Barthes, “Death of the Author,” 148.

47.) Walpole’s own portmanteau, a combination of “gloom” and “depth,” which he felt better encapsulated the Gothic aesthetic. It’s quite fitting that he would use a blend of words to describe the aesthetic conveyed by his house, itself a blend of elements.

48.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 120.

49.) Ibid.

50.) Richard Hurd, Letters on Chivalry and Romance (London: A. Millar, W. Thurlbourn, and J. Woodyer, 1762), 5

51.) Hurd, Letters on Chivalry, 6.

52.) Hurd, Letters on Chivalry, 38.

53.) Barthes, “Death of the Author,” 148.

54.) John Ruskin, The Nature of Gothic (London: Kelmscott Press, 1892), 14-15.

55.) Haggerty, Horace Walpole’s Letters, 73.

56.) Ibid.

57.) Eliot Warbuton, Memoirs of Horace Walpole and His Contemporaries: Including Numerous Original Letters, Chiefly from Strawberry Hill (London: H. Colburn, 1851), 112.

58.) Ketton-Cremer, Horace Walpole, 103.

59.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 119.

60.) Clarke, “Describing and Visiting Strawberry Hill,” 364.

61.) Lewis, Rescuing Horace Walpole, 215.

62.) Clarke, “Describing and Visiting Strawberry Hill,” 369.

63.) Ibid.

64.) Brayley, Edward Wedlake, London and Its Environs; Or the General Ambulator, and Pocket Companion for the Tour of the Metropolis and Its Vicinity Within the Circuit of Twenty-Five Miles: Descriptive of the Objects Most Remarkable for Grandeur, Elegance, Taste, Local Beauty, and Antiquity, (London: Scatcher and Letterman, 1820), 22

65.) Clery, “The Strawberry Hill Press,” 104.

66.) Ketton-Cremer, Horace Walpole, 145.

67.) Horace Walpole, Catalogue of Pictures and Drawings in the Holbein Chamber, at Strawberry-Hill (Twickenham: Strawberry Hill Press, 1760), 22.

68.) Foucault, “What is an Author,” in Modernity and its Discontents, 300.

69.) Horace Walpole, Selected Letters of Horace Walpole (London: E.P. Dutton, 1926), 82.

70.) Sue Chaplin, “Written in the Black Letter: The Gothic and/in the Rule of Law,” Law and Literature 17, no. 1 (2005): 48.

71.) Chaplin, “Written in the Black Letter,” 49.

72.) Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto and the Mysterious Mother (New York: Broadview Press, 2003), 59.

73.) Clery, “The Strawberry Hill Press,” 93.

74.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 59.

75.) 𝕬𝖓 𝖊𝖝𝖆𝖒𝖕𝖑𝖊.

76.) Stephen Yeager, “Gothic Paleography and the Preface to the First Edition of The Castle of Otranto,Gothic Studies 21, no. 2 (2019): n.p.

77.) Yeager, “Gothic Paleography,” n.p.

78.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 59.

79.) Ibid.

80.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 102.

81.) Catherine Gallagher, “The Rise of Fiction,” in The Novel, ed. Franco Moretti (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 336-363.

82.) Thomas De Quincey, “Rhetoric,” in Selected Essays on Rhetoric, ed. Frederick Burwick (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010), 84.

83.) Barthes, “Death of the Author,” 149.

84.) Kim Sloan and Andrew Burnett, Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2003), 49.

85.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 61-62.

86.) Gerard Genette and Marie Maclean, “Introduction to the Paratext,” New Literary History 22, no. 2 (1991): 261.

87.) Gerard Genette, Seuils (Paris: Seuil, 1987), 42.

88.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 54.

89.) David Hume, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Vol. 1: Texts, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (London: Oxford University Press, 1978), 69.

90.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 64.

91.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 57.

92.) John Riely, “The Castle of Otranto Revisited,” The Yale University Library Gazette 53, no. 1 (1978): 3.

93.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 62.

94.) Hurd, Letters on Chivalry, 35.

95.) Hurd, Letters on Chivalry, 24.

96.) Hurd, Letters on Chivalry, 17-18.

97.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 66.

98.) Frederick S. Frank, introduction to The Castle of Otranto and the Mysterious Mother, ed. Frederick S. Frank (New York: Broadview Press, 2003), 21.

99.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 66-67.

100.) Frank, introduction to The Castle of Otranto, 20.

101.) Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 65.

102.) Riely, “The Castle of Otranto Revisited,” 12.

103.) Hurd, Letters on Chivalry, 25.


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