The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole 1764
- 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.
“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 Thoughts: Castle of Otranto is a cute little tale you may want to check out the next time you’re in the mood for ghost story.