The introduction to the Oxford World Classics editions of this book notes that "The Castle of Otranto is never judged purely on its own merits, but raThe introduction to the Oxford World Classics editions of this book notes that "The Castle of Otranto is never judged purely on its own merits, but rather as the founding text of a genre that has flourished, through various permutations, up to the present." And so it is with me. It's impossible for me to forget that this is the first official Gothic novel, and as someone with an interest in Gothic fiction, I owe it a debt.
The book itself, however, is very uneven. Walpole's goal was to create characters who "think, speak, and act, as it might be supposed mere men and women would do in extraordinary positions." Despite this, the characters are terribly flat.
The novel is short, so it has to move quickly, but there's still a great deal of retread going on. It is at least kept exciting with the sheer number of twists and turns. Long lost heirs! Long lost parents! Murder most foul! Indeed, the book can start to feel overstuffed, but it can also be fun.
As noted, all the characters are flat, but the female characters get it the worst. They are so good, and good means meek, submissive, obedient, and devout. Now, I realize the book was published in the 18th century, so I wasn't expecting a modern understanding of "strong female characters." But it was possible to write engaging, interesting women prior to the 20th century.
The first Gothic novel, and therefore invaluable. But certainly not the best Gothic novel....more