The Castle of Otranto

Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole 1764

Notable for:

  • being the first Gothic novel in English, thus initiating the tradition that includes Edgar Allan Poe, Brahm Stoker, Mary Shelley (ugh) and Daphne Du Maurier.

A while back I decided that the 18th century was under-represented on my reading list.  So, I did some digging and added some fairly obscure titles.  The Castle of Otranto, written by Horace Walpole in 1764, is one of those additions.  I was pumped to start reading it for two reasons.  Firstly, it’s short.  I am developing a phobia of long books due to reading Clarissa, Game of Thrones, Tom Jones and Clash of Kings consecutively.  All those books are too long!  I don’t begrudge an author length, if they use it well.  Those authors do not, in my humble opinion.

Side bar: I feel the need to write “in my opinion” whenever I say something negative that might offend, but I feel kind of silly about it.  Obviously, everything subjective that I write on this blog is “just my opinion.”  In real life it bothers me when people tell me “that’s just your opinion.”  Duh.  Of course it is.  Unless I specifically declare that I am speaking as certified authority on a subject or as a representative of a group of people, we can all assume that everything I say is simply my opinion.  Duh.

The second reason I was excited about The Castle of Otranto was that I was hoping it contained a fun ghost to dress as for the pictures.  At first I was concerned on the ghost situation.  For the majority of the book the paranormal menace is a mysterious—and dangerous due to crushing—giant suit of armor.  Fortunately, a skeletal ghost hermit appears!

Walpole uses the conceit that he found an old Italian manuscript and translated it into this book.  It tells the story of Manfred, the prince of a little place called Otranto.  The tale contains many Classical elements:

  • a strong male lead with tragic flaws
    • anger problems
    • prophecy problems
    • the-sins-of-the-father-are-visited-upon-whoever theme
    • ends in marriage
    • virtuous wife
    • bold, virtuous, handsome, puissant bachelor
    • surprise parentage revelations that elevate a peasant to a noble
    • tragic ending

I have been reading so much classic literature that I’ve come to have certain expectations based on oft repeated trends.  One element of Castle O stood out as odd in relation to those trends.  There are two lovely bachelorettes and only one eligible bachelor.  Later I discovered that Walpole sets this situation up so he can waste one lady and still end the story with a marriage, which is necessary according to every story ever told before the Modern Era.

 

Favorite Snippet:

“Have done with this rhapsody of impertinence,” said Matilda.

 

You might like this book if:

  • you like Poe.
  • you like ghost stories, generally.

 

You might not like this book if:

  • you prefer happy endings.
  • Really, it’s too short to be unlikable.  Anything that might irritate you won’t irritate you for long.

 

Final ThoughtsCastle of Otranto is a cute little tale you may want to check out the next time you’re in the mood for ghost story.

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