The Phantastical Gothic Ghost of Horace Walpole

 by

C. Reeder

otrantofootHorace Walpole (1717-97) wrote a ghost story, but not just any ghost story. The dire events and super-sized shade of Prince Alfonso in The Castle of Otranto spooked the reading public, and catapulted Walpole to literary fame.

Otranto was criticized for its thin characters, and outlandish machinations (Clery, Rise 84), but others, like Sir Walter Scott, found the story “grand, tragical, and affecting, (and concluded that) applause which cannot be denied to him who can excite the passions of fear and of pity must be awarded to the author of The Castle of Otranto” (Lewis 158). The new consumer reading public snatched up every copy, and publishers since then have printed over a hundred editions.

Otranto and its ghost contributed to the birth of an entirely new type of novel, a Gothic novel which combined “the ancient and the modern” (9), flaunting a supernatural twist that stood alone, free from the dictates of religious dogma, and wound down through the centuries, sprouting many literary branches on its way to our current age, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.

A distinct age of reason and enlightenment had seized the educated minds of Europe in the eighteenth century, so why would a privileged politician and part-time intellectual, albeit a dilettante, stir up a hornet’s nest, and bring back the so-called superstitious barbarism of the Gothic age when the literati had worked so hard to eliminate it, and the clerics claimed supernatural phenomena strictly their domain?

Walpole sidestepped the condemnation of clerics, and the censure of critics by going straight to the source: the reading public.

Otranto survived the cthe-monkriticisms because of the eighteenth century “rise of consumerism” (Clery, Rise 5). People bought the book, and the template for terror in Otranto inspired many later romantic novelists to copy its winning formula, the most famous example in the 1790s being The Monk by Matthew Lewis.

In Walpole’s opinion, “the great resources of fancy have been dammed up” (9). Walpole imagined an undeniable ghost the size of King Kong to break down that dam.

The Castle of Otranto was not the doodling of a delusional youth, but the product of a mature writer with an ax to grind. Before Otranto, Walpole published Anecdotes of Painting in England (1962), and was considered an expert on antiquarian artifacts and Gothic architecture (Lewis 167). Walpole was forty-seven when he wrote Otranto, and lived in a pseudo Gothic castle he had built from scratch. He claimed he saw a ghost in a nightmare, specifically “a gigantic hand in armour” (Clery, Intro vii). WithinWalpole1793 two months he wrote the story to keep his mind off politics with a passion likened to automatic writing (Lewis 161).

Two years before the ghost of Alfonso showed up in Walpole’s nightmare, a ghost of smaller proportions, the Cock Lane ghost of 1762, became “the talk of London” (Clery, Rise 13). Later demystified and exposed as a fraud, the ghost of a murdered woman supposedly scratched on the wall in response to questions, and attracted throngs of people from all strata of society day and night.

Hogarth Print, Thomas Cook 1744-1818, printmaker.

Hogarth Print, Thomas Cook 1744-1818, printmaker.

The event was likened to theatre and “commercial exploitation” (Clery, Rise 15). David Garrick’s successful play at Drury Lane, The Farmer’s Return, was representative of the enormous attention given to this ghost. Essentially, the play mocked the credulity of city-folk, a reversal of the belief that only ignorant country-folk believed in ghost stories (Clery, Rise 16).

Walpole believed that “a god, at least a ghost, was absolutely necessary to frighten us out of too much senses” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 381), a slam against didactic “sensibility” novels of the day, like the wildly popular Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa.  Many Englishmen agreed with Walpole. In a Preface to Faliero, Lord Byron praised author Walpole for not writing another “puling (whiny) love-play” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 1).

 

Walpole in  his Gothic Castle Strawberry Hills

Walpole in his Gothic Castle Strawberry Hills

One can imagine the slightly built Walpole in a trance, hovered over his manuscript with a Victor Frankenstein-like intensity in the act of creating a monster. Sunlight filters through a gothic stained glass, casting an array of colors over Walpole’s shoulder as it inches across the floor on a summer evening in 1764. The room around him dims, until the only light is from an oil lamp shining on the page he feverishly scribbles on into the wee hours. He later writes his friend Cole that his “hand and fingers were so weary, that he could not hold the pen to finish the sentence” (Clery, Intro vii).

The intensity of physical pain and sexual tension in Otranto must have had a cathartic affect on Walpole, and offered a release for pent-up imaginative fantasies, or a sedative for his nerves and brain. Burke wondered if these fanciful thoughts were “a sort of delightful horror (or) exercise necessary for the finer organs” (Burke 123).

Otranto ghost hand

Hand of the ghost of Otranto confronting the villian

OtrantoSkeleton

Skeleton in The Castle of Otranto

Even with all the praise, Walpole did not see the immediate success of the genre Gothic. He admitted to Mme du Deffand, “I have not written for this century, which wants only cold reason” (Lewis 161). Yet, under the guise of offering a new literature, Walpole indulged his creative urges, and in the process formed a template for a ghost, and a storyline that did not vaporize into the questionable ether, nor direct the reader’s loyalties toward a particular religious dogma. Some laughed at the ghost of Alfonso for its ‘machinations’, but Walpole was unmoved. “If I have amused you by retracing with any fidelity the manners of ancient days, I am content” (Walpole, Letters Vol. 3 378).

Walpole’s murderous shade is a device of dynamic “terror, the author’s principle engine” (6). With a ghost of such an “immense magnitude” (112), its existence cannot be ignored, or denied. The phantasmal ghost of Alfonso still lives on as a relic of an early attempt to scintillate, possibly scare, or simply entertain. Most likely, future generations will continue to be haunted by dank castles, creepy ghosts, miraculous events, and romantic terrors. The human need for romance and mystery seems bottomless.

Oldhorry Sir Thomas Lewis 1795

“Old Horry” Sir Thomas Lawrence 1795

Works Cited
Botting, Fred. Gothic. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and
Beautiful. 1754. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. Web.
Byrne, James M. Religion and the Enlightenment: From Descartes to Kant. Louisville:
Westminister John Knox P, 1997. Web.
Clery, E.J. The Rise of Supernatural Fiction: 1762 – 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
—, Introduction. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. By Horace Walpole. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. vii–xxxiii. Print.
Daniels, Barry V. Revolution in the Theatre: French Romantic Theories of Drama. Westport: Greenwood P, 1983. Web.
Finch, M. B. and Allison E. Peers. Walpole’s Relations with Voltaire. Modern Philology 18.4. (1920): 189-200. Web.
Johnson, James William. Horace Walpole and W. S. Lewis. The Journal of British Studies 6.2. (1967): 64-75. Web.
Johnson, Samuel. The Critical Opinions of Samuel Johnson. Ed. Joseph E. Brown. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1926. Web.
Lewis, Wilmarth Sheldon. Horace Walpole. New York: Pantheon, 1961. Web
Sandner, David. Ed. Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader. Westport: Praeger, 2004. Web
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet: Prince of Denmark. Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Contr. Germaine Greer, Anthony Burgess, Alec Yearling, and PeterAlexander. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1994. 1079-1125. Print.
Voltaire. Candide: or Optimism. Intro. and trans. John Butt. London: Penguin, 1947. Print.
—, Philosophical Dictionary. Ed. and trans. Theodore Besterman. London: Penguin,Print.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. 1764. Ed. W. S. Lewis. Oxford:Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Peter Cunningham. London: Putnam, 1840. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 2. Ed. Charles Duke Yonge.London: Putnam, 1890. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 3. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007 <http://www.gutenberg.org/>
—, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: Volume 4. Ed. Lea And Blanchard.Philadelphia: Sherman, 1842. Project Gutenberg. 3 Apr 2007
©All Rights Reserved. A paper submitted  25 Apr 2007 for Professor Barbara Fitzpatrick’s “Studies in 18th Century Literature” (UNO).
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TBT Babalooo! Where Are You?

Published in EQ Magazine.

EQ Column 10/1999

EQ Column 10/1999

Demo Queen Babaloo2

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Pantera

Roger’s Pantera. It went fast and it was REALLY loud. I could hear him coming at least a mile away with the low vrub-vrub-vrub, vibrating widows and such. Conversations in the car were impossible, what with muscular steel torqueing through bodies. I remember riding in the car, snuggling baby Cimcie curled up on my lap (before child seat laws) with lips smiling in dreamland, a little soft bunny girl-doll, oblivious to being zoomed down Interstate 10 in an exotic Italian sports car by her race-car driver dad. To Grandmother’s house we go; a different ride than “over the river and through the woods”—this car needed flat, smooth surfaces. And, Roger turned corners like a pro, much to my passenger stomach’s dismay. During my pregnancy, riding in that car through Laurel Canyon always produced an up-chuck from me.

While driving through Beverly Hills, Roger got a “too loud” ticket. Back then, (1981) Beverly Hills neighbors would complain (especially in the hills) about anyone in the canyons turning on a loud dishwasher after sunset. Anyway, Roger lined up all his receipts and his defense (he had actually passed the bar exam years earlier), and headed to court. His argument: the muffler was the original, not an add-on to annoy people. The judge dismissed the ticket.  

  

PAntera

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Grief is Not a Choice

When I picked up Roger’s iPhone, after his last breath, a long time passed before I remembered to breathe. I froze. Some people do feint at the sight of death; maybe they forget to breathe? I was amazed that I could breathe. But why was I breathing and not him? Why did Roger, who exercised and didn’t smoke or abuse drugs/alcohol, get this horrible Cancer?

When distant gods and empty creeds offer no respite and no answers to this “why” issue, what’s a sensitive soul like me to do? That’s my modern grief. Somehow, the pain and inner voices are guiding me to write My Crazy Heart, especially for myself, but maybe reach out to others struggling with grief and lingering “why” questions. After all, misery loves company. But something or someone? won’t let me die with Roger, no matter how much I wish to on some days.

Most days, I still find myself frozen in shock, really fear. I lost someone I’d shared most of my life with–over 33 years of the good and the not-so-good, but it was ALL OURS—our children, our animals, our home, our dates, our triumphs, our tragedies. How the hell can I go on without him to face the bankrupted business, the house in foreclosure, the unfinished projects we’d both worked hard on, and just when it seemed the financial stability that our efforts over decades so richly deserved had finally started–the new coveted steady jobs, why, oh why did he have to die now?

Intellectually, I knew it would never be a good time for him to die, but where was my head? All I knew was a broken heart. Everything was gone: my lover; my friend; my confidant; all the life I knew. Even our old dog, Spookie, chose to die three days after Roger. Cowards! Get back here and help me! Who was going to pick up the dead bird in the yard or fix the garbage disposal or hold my hand while we watch the sunset or walk our daughters down the aisle at their weddings or go with me to the doctor or not care that I needed to lose 30 pounds? Each new minute in this new reality after Roger died still delivers different, shocking fears.

When I finally got some counseling, after I thawed out a bit, Ginette Paris, a wise woman with a PhD in Psychology and a twinkly eye, suggested that I not ask “why.” Not only is this asking “why” not helpful, but also by asking the unanswerable “why”, we get stuck in a destructive loop of always asking “why”? It seems that this “why” remains elusive for many things in life like sickness, greed, war or death. But “why” I ask. I’m stubborn that way.

In scanning our limitless Universe, all I know for certain is there will always be more questions for the inquisitive mind. Answering one question will just open up the door to another one. Ask “why” but don’t expect any definitive answers. Why birth? Why do we breathe air? What I do know is this: if you’ve been something to somebody (s)he will grieve when you die. Grieve, I do. This part of life is bad, bad, bad grief, being the one left behind—the fear immobilizing. But, grief is not a choice.

In some circumstances fear would be a good thing since “fear does not prevent action; it prepares the organism for action” (May Anxiety, 15). That’s all good, if I was a zebra on the Serengeti running from lions. But when the lions leave, zebras totally relax. Not so with humans. We carry our angst on the tip of our tongues, buried inside our bodies like a steaming hot mess ready to boil over at the least provocation. At some tipping point, too much fear, too much grief and your body shuts down. Mine did. I just felt numb. I couldn’t move.

Will I survive this? How does anyone? No matter how it happens: divorce, abandonment or death, it’s loss beyond words. 

Hopefully, to be continued…

(I wrote this 23 June 2012, the day I started writing “My Crazy Heart.”)

Me in Grief

Me in Grief

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THE MOTHER FRACKING TREE OF LIFE ;)

Vagina: The Mother Tree of Life

Don’t get your socks all in a bunch. They are only words, right?

I am a tree–felled by ax, thunder storms or bad ideas.

Mainly boys, carve into my bark. Ouch!

Don’t they know I bleed?

The uncut tree numbers are less each year,

leaving no bark to carve.

The shade is disappearing.

So, I will plant me in a well-stocked sub or pod

with all the tress I love and we will float away.

A(wo)men.

Like a lotus–opening….

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Fugitive Blonde circa 1986

Fugitive Blonde Itunes Pic

Lead singer/songwriter Conrad Reeder’s band from 1986 – 1992. Various members, but the songs were written mainly by Conrad, Sandra Kaplinsky/Garszva & Kyle Keilman.

Mixed/Mastered by Roger Nichols.

Buy the track “Wildlife” by Reeder/Garszva here: Fugitive Blonde - Wildlife

FugitiveBlonde-Gig Wootens

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THIS TIME AROUND THE MUSICAL

A new show written by hit songwriter, Pam Wolfe, & Conrad Reeder is now titled:

THIS TIME AROUND

 (Venus A Love Story, was renamed because of a similar title currently on Broadway.)

www.thistimearoundthemusical.com

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