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Horace Walpole is primarily known for his novel The Castle of Otranto, widely considered the first and the most influential Gothic novel.
Walpole was born in London on September 24th, 1717. He attended Eton and Cambridge (but left without taking a degree at the latter) and fell in love with the writings of Shakespeare. He went on the Grand Tour of Italy and France with his close friend, the poet Thomas Gray. The two caroused and quarreled and were estranged for many years thereafter.
When Walpole was twenty-four he was elected a Member of Parliament, a Whig representing a borough of Cornwell. His family was politically prominent; his father, Sir Robert Walpole, was considered the first Prime Minister of England, serving during the time of George II. Walpole served for twenty-five years, retiring in 1768, and became the fourth earl of Oxford in 1791.
Walpole was a prolific writer and antiquarian. He established a printing press at his fantastical home, Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill was a small villa near Twickenham, and Walpole began to expand it and fashion it in a Gothic style. The building was incredibly well known and contributed to the architectural Gothic revival of the 18th century. During this time Walpole became afflicted with chronic gout, and did not venture far from home for the rest of his life.
Walpole claimed he had a dream while at Strawberry Hill that led to his writing The Castle of Otranto. In the first preface he said he had discovered the manuscript and edited it, but later he revealed that he was its true author.
Walpole additionally wrote The Mysterious Mother (1768), a tragedy about incest that Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “the most disgusting, detestable, vile composition that ever came from the hand of man"; he also wrote volumes on arts and antiques. He worked on his memoirs as early as 1751 and then continued them in 1791. His 3,000+ letters are also quite notable as documents that give insights into the intellectual and aristocratic culture of the day. Some of Walpole’s writings garnered criticism by politicians and historians. He was also wrongly accused of being complicit in the suicide of Thomas Chatterton in 1770.
Walpole died in 1797. He did not marry or have children; his sexual orientation has been a matter of speculation for many contemporary and modern historians and writers.