Writing to the Moment: Walpole’s Letters (Public lecture, 10th October)

Letter from Horace Walpole to Hannah More (1788). Reproduced courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Why read letters that were written over two hundred and fifty years ago? What are the special qualities of the letter as a form of writing, and what special insights into social and cultural history do letters afford? 

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was a man of remarkably diverse talents: novelist, art historian, dramatist, designer, collector, politician – and a prolific letter writer. Join Professor Stephen Regan at this first lecture in a new public series celebrating the legacy of Walpole 300 years after his birth.

As the son of the first British Prime Minister, Horace Walpole was uniquely placed as an observer of eighteenth-century politics, but he was also a novelist and an art historian who perceived the possibilities of the letter as a work of art. Acknowledged by Sir Walter Scott as ‘the best letter writer in the English language’, Walpole was both a prolific correspondent and an impeccable stylist. His letters are magnificently diverse in subject matter, ranging from dogs and divorces, gambling and highwaymen, to gothic architecture, international politics, and the contemporary craze for hot-air ballooning. This lecture will show how Walpole’s correspondence challenges our assumptions about the nature and function of letter writing. Walpole’s letters will be seen as acts of writing that embrace their own contradictory status: private and introspective, but also public and effusive, spontaneous and improvised, but also refashioned and curated for posterity.

All welcome to this free event, on 10th October at 18.15, in Elvet Riverside 141, Durham University. Booking not required. Join the conversation online via #WalpoleLegacies, and find this event on Facebook.

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