Horace Walpole and His Legacies: Tercentenary Lectures
Walpole, Burney, and the Tragedy of Incest
Find out how Horace Walpole's 'truly dreadful' drama inspired the work of the later writer, Frances Burney, at this free public lecture in our Walpole and His Legacies series. Join the conversation via #WalpoleLegacies.
When Frances Burney spotted Walpole’s Mysterious Mother among the Queen’s books in November 1786, she was delighted to be allowed to borrow it: ‘I had long desired to read it, from so well knowing, & so much liking the Author’ (The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney, Vol. 1: 1786). Having read it aloud, with a group of fellow courtiers, she professed herself disgusted, however: ‘Dreadful was the whole! truly dreadful! a story of so much horror, from attrocious and voluntary guilt, never did I hear!’ (CJL, 270). Yet despite her protestations, incest casts its shadow over Burney’s own works, and is key in the plot of her own first tragedy, Edwy and Elgiva. This lecture will explore Walpole’s and Burney’s differing approaches to this recurrent theme in eighteenth-century drama, suggesting its importance for the period’s shifting understanding of the purpose and impact of tragedy as a genre.
Image credit: Fanny Burney, by Edward Francisco Burney. National Portrait Gallery 2634. Reproduced under CC BY NC ND licence.
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