Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Walpole, Horace

(1717-1797) UK writer and man of letters, son of the prime minister Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) and (from 1791) the 4th Earl of Orford. HW's impact on Gothic Fantasy was immense. In 1747 he bought the house of Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham; over the next 20 years he developed it into an ornate Gothic castle, thus establishing an interest in that artform. He extended this to the Gothic novel with The Castle of Otranto (dated 1765 but 1764), the seminal work of Gothic fantasy. HW's love of hoaxes led him to issue this as a translation by William Marshal from the Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, purportedly published in Naples in 1529. HW claimed as his theme the natural retribution arising from "the sins of the fathers". The book was immensely popular and set in motion not just the Gothic novel but the whole genre of Supernatural Fiction.

HW did not attempt to repeat this success, though he came close with The Mysterious Mother (1768), a non-supernatural novel which follows through the consequences of discovering the family curse of incest. It was a shocking theme for its day. HW printed it from his own Strawberry Hill press, which he had established in 1757, the first private press of any importance in England. It was later issued in a larger print run by the firm of Graham & Dodsley in 1781. The book may have appalled the public, but it set the trend for the more provocative works of Gothic fantasy, especially Vathek (1786) by William Beckford and The Monk (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

Most of HW's other works, including those he published through his press, were books and catalogues on art and literature. The rarest volume is Hieroglyphic Tales (coll 1785; rev with addition of a previously uncollected story 1982 ed Kenneth W Gross), printed in an edition of only six copies and only more widely available when published in HW's collected Works (omni 1798). This is a group of Fairytales, clearly commentaries upon HW's political and social experiences, drawing from Arabian Fantasy, Celtic Fantasy and Oriental Fantasy. They show the influence of stories in translation by Madame d'Aulnoy and particularly of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726).

HW's love of the extravagant led him to coin the word "serendipity" in 1754, which he concocted from the Arabian fantasy "The Three Princes of Serendip", in which the princes are always making chance discoveries. A spoof was An Account of the Giants Lately Discovered (1766 chap), which purported to tell of Giants discovered in Patagonia during a recent voyage by Admiral John Byron (1723-1786). [MA]

Horace Walpole


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.