Gothic piles and cynical follies revisited: A quizzical tour through country house literature of the long eighteenth century

M-C. Newbould


The eighteenth century witnessed an expansion in domestic tourism that allowed increasingly diversified visitors to access the grand homes of those for whom more lavish types of travel had furnished their seats, in town and country alike. Numerous travel guides and literary texts engage with the ongoing ‘country house’ tradition of praising the home, gardens, and owner of such places. However, the shifting social contexts in which both these buildings and the ideologies they embodied often drew writers to satirise critically the great houses they ostensibly admired. This essay examines how the Gothic aesthetic infused the broader country house tradition with a novel way of assessing the uneasy tension between tradition and innovation catalysed by the changing circumstances of the eighteenth century by examining the links several key writers forged between Gothic architectural structures and literary texts. It examines Horace Walpole’s Gothic projects in both The Castle of Otranto and Strawberry Hill; Mary Leapor’s Crumble Hall; William Beckford’s Vathek and Fonthill; Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey; before settling on a detailed discussion of Norman Abbey in Byron’s Don Juan, the literary equivalent of his own seat at Mansfield which, in turn, became a key spot on the tourist trail.


Gothic; country houses; travel literature; tourism; satire; romance; poetry; Horace Walpole; Lord Byron; Jane Austen; Mary Leapor; William Beckford

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