Myth In Reception: Insights From Stourhead Gardens

Harrison, John Edward (2018). Myth In Reception: Insights From Stourhead Gardens. PhD thesis The Open University.



The focus of my thesis is the reception of classical myth in Georgian Britain as exemplified by responses to the garden imagery at Stourhead, Wiltshire. Previous explanations have tended to the view that the gardens were designed to recapitulate Virgil’s Aeneid. However, the garden owner, Henry Hoare II, left no record to substantiate this, or any other theme, and it is not mentioned in the many extant visitor accounts from the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

My approach to understanding the garden began with the systematic collection of information on the garden’s content and evolution. This endeavour yielded more than 20 further visitor reports, as well as visual and literary sources not considered in previous secondary accounts. This research has shown that the garden included a number of artefacts unknown to previous theorists. It has also shown that the true provenance and acquisition of extant garden elements is often different to that listed in the Stourhead secondary literature.

I conclude that visitor reception of the gardens yields highly idiosyncratic interpretation, the emotional and cognitive content of which was largely determined by information obtained from published literature, garden guides and fellow visitors. A strong further influence on the interpretation of the gardens by some visitors was familiarity with the Roman and wider Italian influences on the garden content. I have especially considered visitor experience of the Grand Tour in this context. I propose that visits to Stourhead elicited emotional and cognitive responses from visitors. An effect of encountering the garden edifices and artefacts was to prompt memories, particularly of prior visits to the original Roman or Italian buildings and artefacts, but also of copies encountered in English landscape gardens and elsewhere.

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