Studies in the Gothic Revival

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Studies in the Gothic Revival, edited by Michael McCarthy and Karina O'Neill (Ireland: Four Courts, 2008), 239pp., £50 hb: ISBN 978-1846820227.

Studies in the Gothic Revival, edited by Michael McCarthy and Karina O'Neill, is a collection of various essays on the topic of architectural and design history during the Neo-Gothic revival. The book assembles together the papers delivered at a conference held in the Irish Architectural Archive in January 2005 to mark the retirement of Professor McCarthy from University College Dublin. Michael McCarthy is best known as the author of Origins of the Gothic Revival (1987), a standard textbook for students of architectural history. He is a former professor of the University of Toronto, and is currently Professor Emeritus of University College Dublin.

The ten illustrated papers contained in this book, although focusing largely on Irish Neo-Gothic architecture, cover a wide variety of topics on the Gothic Revival from Irish public architecture to fan-vaulting to the importance of pattern-books in the transmission of styles.

For students of architectural history, the book has much to recommend it. The varied essays offer insights into the careers of Gothic Revival architects practising in Ireland such as Christopher Myers, Thomas Rickman, Richard Pierce and the oddly-named Batty Langley. Other papers give a detailed background and history of particular buildings such as the Sligo assizes courthouse and St Peter's church in Phibsboro, Dublin. Although the book has a clear focus on the Irish context of the Gothic Revival, there is also an international dimension given in two essays; one by Barbara Arciszewska on English influences on Polish Neo-Gothic and another by Teresa Watts on Trinity Church, Potsdam, New York.

So why would this book of interest to scholars working in the field of Gothic Studies? At first glance, this book may seem of purely architectural interest, but there are several papers that touch on generic Gothic themes of translation, imitation and literature.

For architecture and literature are bound closely together in the story of the Gothic Revival, not only in Ireland, but in the wider sphere of the British Isles. The genesis of Gothic Revival literature, the works of Walpole and Beckford, not only contain lavish architectural descriptive passages, but the authors were also the wealthy commissioners of two of the landmark buildings of early Gothic revival architecture - Strawberry Hill and Fonthill Abbey. In both buildings we find an amalgamation of Gothic literary tropes; spectacular spaces, historical quotations and fantastic adornments. While Strawberry Hill is the Castle of Otranto made flesh (minus gigantic helmet), the ruined Fonthill Abbey is a truly Gothic confection; a nightmarish amalgamation of literary terror and architectural reality. Similarly, in the canon of Irish Gothic, the architectural component is no less compelling as backdrop, setting and metaphor for the Irish Gothic tradition. …