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Walpole, Horace (1717-1797)  

Horace Walpole was the youngest child of one of the most powerful political figures of the eighteenth century and his wealthy and beautiful wife. The great Sir Robert Walpole, considered by many to be the first "prime" minister, ran English government for a generation. Horace hated him as much as he loved the mother whom he saw offended by his father's infidelities. His parentage, nevertheless, gave him a certain stature and sense of self-importance that never left him.

At ten, Walpole was sent to Eton College, where he became part of the "Quadruple Alliance" of sensitive literary friends, which included Thomas Gray, the most popular poet of the century, and Richard West, a sensitive and inverted young writer who died in his twenties and was the cause of a deeply moving series of letters and poems between Walpole and Gray.

These two men remained friends throughout the latter's life, and Walpole continued to champion his poetry and defend him personally in the forty years he survived him.

The two traveled on the continent together after university--they both went to Cambridge--and after several months together on the "Grand Tour," they had a bitter falling out that took years to put behind them.

Walpole shared Gray's devotion to other men, and though he is as little likely to have actually had sexual experiences with men, he did love several in his long life, for a great portion of it devoting himself to one cousin, Henry Conway.

Walpole is famous for such literary productions as The Castle of Otranto (1764), which almost single-handedly instituted the Gothic novel vogue.

The Castle of Otranto tells the story of a jealous and ambitious prince, Manfred, who exercises power through abuse of the men and women around him. Early on in the work, he is responsible for his "puny" son's death, and later he murders his daughter. Between these two events, he torments his wife and attempts to rape his son's fiancée.

This may not sound very "gay," but Walpole is chronicling the virulence of paternal control and exhibiting various ways in which a family can be dysfunctional. It may take the sexual outsider, after all, to point out the destructiveness of a father.

In another important work, this time a play, The Mysterious Mother (1768), Walpole problematizes the family in other ways. His Gothic enterprise seems intent on exposing the horrors of domestic life. He claimed to come to the Gothic material in his dreams. These are dreams that some of us probably know quite well.

The other side of his life of writing is that found in the forty-four volumes of his Correspondence. Walpole was one of the most famous letter writers of the century, and his delightful effusions are filled with a connoisseur's knowledge of literature and the arts, a gossip's familiarity with scandal, and a fop's attention to the details of dress, family, and social position.

George E. Haggerty


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Top: A portrait of Horace Walpole.
Above: Walpole's mock-Gothic mansion at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham.

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Graham, Kenneth, ed. Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression. New York: AMS, 1989.

Haggerty, George E. "Literature and Homosexuality in the Late Eighteenth Century: Walpole, Beckford, and Lewis." Studies in the Novel 18 (1986): 341-352.

Ketton-Cremer, R. W. Horace Walpole: A Biography. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1964.

McNeil, Peter. "'That Doubtful Gender': Macaroni Dress and Male Sexualities." Fashion Theory 3.4 (1999): 1-38.

Mowl, Tim. Horace Walpole: The Great Outsider. London: Murray, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Haggerty, George E.  
    Entry Title: Walpole, Horace  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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