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!