Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Horace Walpole: Vampires , Doubts, and Serendipity

I recently picked up The Vampyre: A Bedside Companion edited by Christopher Frayling and in the introduction I stumbled upon the name of Horace Walpole as having written what is often considered to be the first gothic novel (Castle of Otranto (1764)) based on a nightmare he’d had. “What?” thought I. “Could this have been written by the same Walpole who wrote Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III (1768)?” A quick Google search revealed it was indeed the same person. So not only was he an early revisionist, but also a Gothic novel pioneer.

What I like about Doubts is that he questioned the prevailing “historical facts” of the time that Richard committed the following crimes:

1. His murder of Edward prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth.
2. His murder of Henry the Sixth.
3. The murder of his brother George duke of Clarence.
4. The execution of Rivers, Gray, and Vaughan.
5. The execution of Lord Hastings.
6. The murder of Edward the Fifth and his brother.
7. The murder of his own queen.

Because the executions are so well documented and there is no doubt that they did take place, Walpole instead questions More’s assumptions of Richard’s motivations.

Regardless of whether his conclusions were correct, the real value in Doubts for me is that he questioned the “facts” about Richard III and kept the door open for more research. As George Carlin said, “Question everything.”

So what does this have to do with serendipity? According to the article (cited) and the etymology given in The American Heritage Dictionary, Walpole is accredited with coining this word.

Horace Walpole
Historic Doubts

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