February 26, 2015

Grau House

Edgar Allan Poe visited England as a child. His imagination was stirred by the Walter Scott atmosphere of English country houses.  Later he heard about the neo-gothic mansions built by Horace Walpole and William Beckford, two masters of the Gothic novel. All the trappings of the Tudor manor house myth were to make a great impression in America: the rusty armor, dirt-encrusted portraits, mysterious coats of arms, dusty stained glass, the spidery chandeliers-and, of course, the ghosts. In sum, the decor of Henry James's "Turn of the Screw."

There were plenty of churches in the neo-gothic style in America, but not many private houses. The most charming of these is still Lyndhurst on the banks of the Hudson. And then came the great age of college-building, which bore its final and most extraordinary fruit at Yale.  The Cloisters Museum in New York stems from this same nostalgia for a medieval world, which could provide a link with some dark supernatural life, mysterious or just plain "creepy" like the drawings of Charles Addams, who has located "his" House of Usher in the suburbs. Another variant of the style took its inspiration from the ruins of Heidelberg; restaurants built by immigrants in the 1880's in the Wilhelmine manner still exist in New York.  The necessary preconditions for this decor for phantoms can be found in abandoned plantations, and even in some New York apartment blocks, like the Dakota building used in "Rosemary's Baby," itself extremely Gothic in inspiration.   And the sets of vampire films set in the Carpathians are also inspired by these English mansions, where one expects to come across hidden treasures and beneath whose tapestries, stirred slightly by the wind as in "Hamlet," rats or revenants are likely to lurk.

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