…Stage-Management (The Oxford Diary)

by WE

So, Tuesday was the great day. I was going to visit the house I formed much of my master thesis on and around. For those very few of you who haven’t read it: my thesis starts from the presumption that you cannot spend years transforming a classical villa into a gothic castle without absorbing some of the structural and aesthetic principles into your mind. And that Walpole could not but transform the classical novel into a gothic novel after having been living at Strawberry Hill for 10 years, however, still adding to, changing and improving its gothicness.

When we (the 8 or so participants of the Oxford Experience Course on The Gothic Novel) approached the house in our little white minibus, expertly driven by Darren, we were surprised that he took us to a quite modern residential area. In fact, the first glimpse of the white tower and battlements through the branches of some trees comes as a pleasant shock. I can’t think but Walpole would have loved this, however sadly he might regret the loss of his beautiful gardens and the lovely view onto the river.

The first thing that struck me about Strawberry Hill was that it is so small. I actually was a bit disappointed. Except for the trappings (battlements, tower, turret), it doesn’t have the imposing presence of a gothic castle. It’s whiteness makes one think of Schloss Neuschwanstein, however. And this link did it for me. It suddenly all made sense. Strawberry Hill is a masterpiece!

We entered the hall and it got rather crammed with the eight of us plus guide. The ceiling was painted to look like gothic stonework without having the slightest chance of fooling anyone. The same goes for the fretwork. Still, every room was very well thought out and planned, from the painted glass in the windows to the colour scheme to the placement of pictures, furniture and other paraphernalia. And as you pass through the appartments, the gallery, the tower you can actually feel the fun the Strawberry Committee had, arranging everything.

And they were committed: Committed to producing soul rather than structure, effects rather than historic fact. “Go on, copy the cloisters of some tomb in Westminster Abbey for the book shelves – but don’t forget a comfortable 18th century armchair to sit and read in.” “Make this passage dark, full of ‘gloomth’ – but these stairs rather more shallow for my and my guests’ comfort.” Set the stage for the great innovator so that he may fill us with horrors unheard of and send cosy shivers down our spines!

…Thick Curtains and Dark Wainscoting (The Oxford Diary)

by WE

Whoever the people were who invented the said thick curtains and dark brown wainscoting – let me thank them from all my heart!

Despite the bright sun which heats up the courts and halls of Christchurch College, we have been able to get into the right frame of mind to read, discuss, enjoy and do justice to The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole’s “Gothic Story”.

On Monday – yes, I know, I’m a bit behind with my diary – I went to a bookshop because my “The Monk” had turned into “Melmoth the Wanderer” on the train to Oxford (in other words: I left my copy in the little net thingy attached to the seat in front of you). Up I went to the third floor where the shop directory said the ‘Classics’ were to be found. And true enough, the shelves were chock-a-block with classics. They had “The Monk” in various editions and I picked a nice (not quite blood) red one. While I was at it I thought I’d look up the others as well, you know, Maturin, Shelley, Stoker – and working my way through most of the alphabet I finally landed at the “W”.

I was delighted to see that there was a little plaque there – you know the things which are attached to the shelves for the more important writers – for the right Hon. Horace Walpole, diverted Earl of Orford. But, imagine my horror, not a single edition of the Book. At that moment, the nice shop assistant – probably thankful for my visit to his solitary post (you see I’m getting in the mood) – passed by and asked if I needed help. So I asked him about the plaque and the empty portion of shelf. He looked and after all found a copy of “Otranto” – not completely inappropriately – in between the Yeats. “Well, there is at least one. I don’t know if it’s the one you were looking for, it’s called the ‘Castle of Otranto’.” I told him that it was his only novel and that he was rather known for his letters and memoirs. He seemed a bit worried so I told him that the novel was not well-known, generally. I did not tell him that it was the first Gothic novel, that Walpole also wrote the first Gothic drama, that he was the youngest son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, that he converted his cottage in Twickenham into a gothic castle and that I was very excited about going to Strawberry Hill the next morning. Taciturn. You know.

Well, I bought both The Monk and Otranto and we parted on very amiable terms having shared in the gladness that, anyway, Walpole did have his very own plaque.

…Heat (The Oxford Diary)

by WE

Oxford and heat – two words I wouldn’t have expected to go well together. And up to know I haven’t been convinced that they do. Well, honestly, I have not seen much of Oxford, yet.

I arrived by train, which never yields a good first impression of a city. I didn’t get to see much of Lewis’s Oxford on the taxi drive either. But Christchurch, now, Christchurch College is everything I expected from it. It simply breathes history and learning. My room is just under the roof in one of the buildings forming the Pembroke Quadrangle.

Despite its modern (well English-modern) furnishings, you can still imagine someone like John Donne or Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde or Lewis Carrol making their way up the four floors (I don’t actually know, if any one of these studied in Christchurch, they went to one or the other of the Oxford colleges, anyway). I’m not very tall but I can touch the ceiling without getting up on my tiptoes. Maybe, Lewis Carroll touched the very same spot?

The Blue Boar Quadrangle was a bit of a disappointment (being an annexe from the 80ies or so and looking it). But the Hall – you really do not need any Harry Potter movie trappings to make that impressive!

Shall I say something about the heat? Well, it’s just hot, you know. Sticky, stuffy, sweaty. And very light. What this does to my fellow students’ and my ability to concentrate on the dark and sinister workings of the gothic villain remains to be seen…

…Star Trek Into Darkness

by WE

Just home from watching Star Trek 2. Unfortunately in 3D.

I think I will avoid any 3D movie from now on. The number of blurred pans! And: the experience is not really enhanced. Okay, you have the occasional bits of spaceship flying in your face. And you might go: “Wow, look at at the things they can do today!” But actually, I wanted to watch a movie and not to be made a witness of today’s advanced technology. And I don’t want bits of spaceship flying in my face.

So, no more 3D for me.

As for the film, it was okay, but nothing special in my opinion. A typical part 2.


…Mary Poppins

by WE

I’ve just watched a repeat airing of “Bagger Vance”. Another of these Mary Poppins figures that keep appearing from time to time in American movies. There was more music in Mary Poppins, though. More dancing. More singing. On the other hand, Matt Damon is cuter than Dick van Dyke.

Maybe I should give some more thought to this in another text.



…eating pathologists

by WE

Pathologists who eat their sandwiches in the morgue while explaining the gruesome injuries which led to the victim’s death have been a popular film cliché for quite a long time now. Movie makers, please, it’s time to put it on a shelf somewhere at the very back of the warehouse!