Image of Hugh Walpole


Lifetime: 1884 - 1941 Passed: ≈ 82 years ago




United States

Hugh Walpole

Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole was an English novelist. He was the son of an Anglican clergyman, intended for a career in the church but drawn instead to writing. Among those who encouraged him were the authors Henry James and Arnold Bennett. His skill at scene-setting and vivid plots, as well as his high profile as a lecturer, brought him a large readership in the United Kingdom and North America. He was a best-selling author in the 1920s and 1930s but has been largely neglected since his death.

After his first novel, The Wooden Horse, in 1909, Walpole wrote prolifically, producing at least one book every year. He was a spontaneous story-teller, writing quickly to get all his ideas on paper, seldom revising. His first novel to achieve major success was his third, Mr Perrin and Mr Traill, a tragicomic story of a fatal clash between two schoolmasters. During the First World War he served in the Red Cross on the Russian-Austrian front, and worked in British propaganda in Petrograd and London. In the 1920s and 1930s Walpole was much in demand not only as a novelist but also as a lecturer on literature, making four exceptionally well-paid tours of North America.

As a gay man at a time when homosexual practices were illegal for men in Britain, Walpole conducted a succession of intense but discreet relationships with other men, and was for much of his life in search of what he saw as "the perfect friend". He eventually found one, a married policeman, with whom he settled in the English Lake District. Having as a young man eagerly sought the support of established authors, he was in his later years a generous sponsor of many younger writers. He was a patron of the visual arts and bequeathed a substantial legacy of paintings to the Tate Gallery and other British institutions.

Walpole's output was large and varied. Between 1909 and 1941 he wrote thirty-six novels, five volumes of short stories, two original plays and three volumes of memoirs. His range included disturbing studies of the macabre, children's stories and historical fiction, most notably his Herries Chronicle series, set in the Lake District. He worked in Hollywood writing scenarios for two Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films in the 1930s, and played a cameo in the 1935 version of David Copperfield.

Walpole was born in Auckland, New Zealand, the eldest of three children of the Rev Somerset Walpole and his wife, Mildred Helen, née Barham (1854–1925). Somerset Walpole had been an assistant to the Bishop of Truro, Edward White Benson, from 1877 until 1882, when he was offered the incumbency of St Mary's Cathedral, Auckland. on Benson's advice he accepted.

Mildred Walpole found it hard to settle in New Zealand, and something of her restlessness and insecurity affected the character of her eldest child. In 1889, two years after the birth of the couple's daughter, Dorothea ("Dorothy"), Somerset Walpole accepted a prominent and well-paid academic post at the General Theological Seminary, New York. Robert ("Robin"), the third of the couple's children, was born in New York in 1892. Hugh and Dorothy were taught by a governess until the middle of 1893, when the parents decided that he needed an English education.

Walpole was sent to England, where according to his biographer Rupert Hart-Davis the next ten years were the unhappiest time of Walpole's life. He first attended a preparatory school in Truro. Though he missed his family and felt lonely he was reasonably happy, but he moved to Sir William Borlase's Grammar School in Marlow in 1895, where he was bullied, frightened and miserable. He later said, "The food was inadequate, the morality was 'twisted', and Terror – sheer, stark unblinking Terror – stared down every one of its passages ... The excessive desire to be loved that has always played so enormous a part in my life was bred largely, I think, from the neglect I suffered there".

Books by Hugh Walpole

The Golden Scarecrow Cover image

The Golden Scarecrow

Fairy Tale
Children's Literature Anthologies

Toying with the distinctions between reader and narrator, author and character, imagination and perception, Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole's The Golden Scarecrow, in nine chapters, presents nine stories of nine children, united by location, more or less. A...

Joseph Conrad Cover image

Joseph Conrad

Spirit Autobiography Literary Criticism Nautical Life America United States

This is a literary biography of Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924) who is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in English. He was granted British nationality in 1886, but always considered himself a Pole. Though he did not speak English fluently until...

Portrait Of A Man With Red Hair; A Romantic Macabre Cover image

Portrait Of A Man With Red Hair; A Romantic Macabre

Romantic Love America United States Melodies

Portrait Of A Man With Red Hair is a romantic macabre, a thriller of a melodrama written in 1925 and dedicated to his good friends from America Ethel and Arthur Fowler with whom Hugh Walpole stayed with on many occasions whilst he was on his literary...

The Gods and Mr Perrin Cover image

The Gods and Mr Perrin

Tragedy Comics Historical Fiction Communism God

The book is probably better known under the title ‘Mr Perrin and Mr Traill’, later made into a well-known film in 1948. Perrin and Traill are masters at a grim old-fashioned second-rate boarding public school in Cornwall – Perrin has been there many...

Harmer John; An Unworldly Story Cover image

Harmer John; An Unworldly Story

Young Spirit Imaginative Self-Discovery Explore Life Wisdom Inspirational

It is a delightful novel that tells the story of John Harmer, a young man who lives a sheltered and unworldly life. This charming book was written by the popular British novelist Hugh Walpole and it was first published in 1929. The story of Harmer J...

The Duchess of Wrexe Cover image

The Duchess of Wrexe

Fiction Novel
Young Mystery Skills Society Suspense Life

The book is a gripping tale of mystery and intrigue set in the Georgian era. First published in 1934, "The Duchess of Wrexe" is considered one of Hugh Walpole's most notable works. The novel is set in the small English town of Wrexe and follows the...

The Green Mirror Cover image

The Green Mirror

Mystery Fortune Thriller Historical Fiction Culture Reflection Travel Suspense Life

The book follows the story of young Englishman Richard Herbert, who inherits a small fortune from his uncle and decides to travel to Italy. However, his journey takes a mysterious turn when he arrives at his uncle's old villa and discovers an antique...

The Captives Cover image

The Captives

Family Young Social Struggle Life Wealth Emotion Human Nature

It explores the complexities of human relationships, power, and morality. First published in 1920, the book remains a classic work of English literature and a testament to Walpole's literary talent. The story follows the lives of two main characters...

Jeremy At Crale; His Friends, His Ambitions And His One Great Enemy Cover image

Jeremy At Crale; His Friends, His Ambitions And His One Great Enemy

Fiction Novel
Mystery Friendship Suspense Socialism Ambition Human Nature Secret Motivation Twists

Step into the intriguing world of Jeremy At Crale as he navigates friendships, ambitions, and a formidable enemy in this captivating novel by Hugh Walpole. Jeremy At Crale; His Friends, His Ambitions And His One Great Enemy, written by Hugh Walpole,...

The Thirteen Travelers Cover image

The Thirteen Travelers

Fantasy Adventure Fiction Novel
Gothic Spirit Mystery Illumination Fate Supernatural Suspense Destiny Secret Intriguing

Amidst the rolling hills of the countryside, an eclectic group of thirteen strangers find themselves brought together by an enigmatic invitation—an invitation to embark on a journey that transcends time and space. Each traveler, with their own secret...

The Cathedral Cover image

The Cathedral

Fiction Novel
Love Young Power Religion Redemption Corruption Forgiveness Hope Hypocrisy

In the sleepy town of Polchester, a hidden world of intrigue and ambition swirls around the magnificent cathedral. The Cathedral by Hugh Walpole is a classic novel of power, corruption, and redemption. Set in the fictional English town of Polchester...