Horace Walpole and His Legacies: Tercentenary Lectures
Creativity and Collaboration: The Case of The Mysterious Mother
With its themes of incest and horror, Horace Walpole's gothic drama was certainly compelling. Explore more in this free public lecture from our Walpole and His Legacies series. Join the conversation via #WalpoleLegacies.
Incestuous sexuality, clerical corruption, and horrors piling implacably upon horrors: Horace Walpole’s Gothic tragedy, The Mysterious Mother (1768), is one of the most extraordinary closet dramas of the eighteenth century. Though unperformed—and perhaps even ‘unperformable’—in its own day, the play was nonetheless highly influential upon Gothic writing, both dramatic and fictional, towards the end of the century, its outrageous subject matter only rivaled by such later Romantic works as John Polidori’s Ernestus Berchtold (1819) and P. B. Shelley’s The Cenci (1819). The circumstances surrounding the conceptualization, writing, and eventual publication of The Mysterious Mother are as intriguing as the play itself, and have much to tell us about Horace Walpole’s approach to such crucial matters as collaboration, gender, sexuality, ‘genius’, and the process of literary creation. Drawing upon a range of visual, archival, and lesser-known published resources, this lecture offers a fresh consideration of Walpole’s understudied drama, reassessing not only its place within the writer’s oeuvre, but its relation to the history of Gothic and Romantic literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries more generally.
Image credit: Illustration for The Mysterious Mother, by Lady Diana Beauclerk (1776). Reproduced courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
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