First published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto purported to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades. In it Walpole attempted, as he declared in the Preface to the Second Edition, "to blend the two kinds of romance: the ancient and the modern." Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos, the novel was an immediate success and Walpole's own favorite among his numerous works. The novel is reprinted here from a text of 1798, the last that Walpole himself prepared for the press.
Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford — also known as Horace Walpole — was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician. He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors, and for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Along with the book, his literary reputation rests on his Letters, which are of significant social and political interest. He was the son of Sir Robert Walpole, and cousin of Lord Nelson.
This granddaddy of all Gothics is still worth a read. It has its flaws, but Walpole's style is crisp and economical, and the book itself is mercifully brief.
Manfred possesses all the important features of the classic gothic hero that Mrs. Radcliffe and others would later use to great advantage, and the initial scenes--particularly the surrealistic tableau of Manfred's heir flattened by a gigantic helmet and the exciting sequence of Isabella's flight through the castle's subterranean darkness--are still powerful today.
Things bog down in the middle, slowed by sentimental dialogue and overcomplicated plot points, but the owner of the helmet himself appears at the end (a deus ex maximus?) in a climax worthy of Dali and Bunuel. Manfred's dynasty crumbles, and so do the walls of Otranto, in an ending that would influence Poe's "Usher" some seventy years later.
“CLASSICS” can teach us a great deal about things like history, culture, customs and different literary styles. From this book I learned that classics CAN ALSO REALLY, REALLY SUCK!!! Now before continuing, I would like to be clear that when I say this book sucked, I don’t mean “it was well written but kinda dry and boring”sucked. No, I mean planets and stars being pulled toward the event horizon of a black hole suckage. In other words, suckage on a grand and towering scale.
Now, in fairness, it should be noted that the book was written in 1764 and is widely considered to be the first ever Gothic novel. This highlights two things. First, that there was at least one really, really crappy book published in the 18th century. Second, as the first gothic novel, it has the additional distinction of being the first gothic novel to really, really suck.
The book centers around Manfred, who is the lord of a Castle Otranto. As the story begins, Manfred’s day gets off to a really bad start when his sickly son gets crushed by a massive helmet that falls on him inexplicably from above. You might be wondering where the giant helmet came from and how it happened to fall. Well reading the book won't help.......BECAUSE IT IS NEVER EXPLAINED. It just sort of happens... which just sort of sucks.
So anyway, the son’s death leads Manfred to believe that an ancient prophecy is coming to pass which states that his ownership of the castle will cease “should the owner be grown too large to inhabit it.” [Begin confused look].... I have no idea what that means.
Well Manfred decides that he can best avoid the prophecy by divorcing his first wife and marrying his dead son’s fiancé so that she can give him a proper heir. How does having another son fit in with stopping the prophecy? Can't tell you...don't know....me and and the baby above are still confused. Manfred tells his first wife the plan and she basically accepts being pushed aside for a younger woman without a peep. Basically, Mr. Walpole thought that portraying the first wife as an extreme doormat was just what the story needed. Well done, Horace. Way to write those strong female characters.
After that the rest of the book is mostly “I want to marry her, but she doesn’t want to marry me because she wants to marry him, who wants to marry someone else….and Manfred is a real prick.” That sums it up except that some more boring shit happens that really sucks and there is some chasing, some hiding, a couple of deaths and some mysterious yet incredibly boring knights from a neighboring kingdom.
The Castle of Otranto was the Blair Witch Project of 1764. Both were game-changers which popularized a new genre. Blair Witch launched the “found footage” horror trope and Otranto inaugurated the “Gothic.”
Interestingly enough, Otranto also employs a “found footage” gimmick with its first edition, pretending that the original manuscript was hundreds of years old, unearthed from the dusty library of an “ancient Catholic family” and had to be translated from Italian. There’s a lengthy introduction written by the “translator” explaining all his theories about how much of the story might be true and what the author aimed to achieve. This charade isn’t part of the game-changing nature of the novel, however, because such a tactic was in vogue at the time.
Publishing the novel anonymously and translated by “Onuphrio Muralto” (an anagrammatic pun of Horace Walpole) was more than just a trendy move, however. The novel’s content was so drastically different from common reading at the time, public backlash or the possibility of being laughed off the shelves was a real concern. Instead, of course, the book became such a bestseller that the first printing sold out almost immediately.
With success in his sails, Walpole took full credit for his creation in the second edition. Not only did his name ablaze the cover, but he added the all-important subtitle: “A Gothic Story.”
Gothic ideology is enormously fascinating and can easily hijack this review if I let it. The short of it is that in the mid-18th century there was a new-found appreciation for the goths of medieval Europe, which combined with Edmund Burke's philosophy of the “sublime” in 1757. Burke argued that meditative pleasure could be found in seemingly contradictory feelings, such as melancholy or terror. A crumbling Gothic castle, for example, was such a location to inspire unease and fear, but also awe and inspiration.
Compounded with all this was the Whigs, a political party who strongly identified with goth ideology and of which Horace Walpole was an extremely active member.
Thus was the atmosphere when Walpole penned some 100 pages of terror, romance and mystery, how he came to dubbing The Castle of Otranto a “Gothic” novel, and forever altered the path of literary history.
It’s worth mentioning all this before I get to my reactions, I think, because recognition is deserved for just how impactful this novel is to history, regardless of how I think about it some 250 years later.
Anyway, as it turns out, I like it! This may be somewhat unusual because even the scholarly introduction warns that modern audiences often find Otranto “ludicrous” and “unreadable.” No such feelings plagued my experience, however.
The first chapter is enormously captivating as we find ourselves in the midst of a wedding day from hell. Isabella’s groom has been mysteriously crushed to death by an impossibly large helmet which has fallen from the sky. This shock isn’t terrible for the bride, actually, since the wedding was arranged for political purposes. But then the groom’s father, anxious to combat a prophecy that his line will no longer rule Otranto, turns tyrant and plots to divorce his barren wife and marry Isabella himself.
Isabella flees in terror, encountering secret passageways, haunted caves, animated corpses, moving portraits, and much hullabaloo in the process. Other characters find themselves mixed up in the fray, including the tyrant’s daughter, a monk with a secret, and a youth with the striking resemblance to a hunk in one of the castle paintings.
With so much drama, the story might be considered a breezy read even by today’s standards, except for the odd choice to ignore grammatical convention. Few paragraph breaks are found and dialogue is all mushed together. Sometimes conversation is separated with a dash, but more often it flows freely. A bit confusing, but not incomprehensible. The introduction notes that some editors have given the novel grammatical convention, but these attempts never stick because the high-speed pacing is diminished as well as a sense of “claustrophobia.”
Once you get used to Walpole’s stylistic choice, it’s not difficult to manage. Other struggles, however, may include a general lack of shock by the events. After nearly three hundred years of imitation, and imitations of imitations, many of the plot threads come across as cliche or laughable.
After the bombastic opening chapter, I did start to feel that way. Other authors have done subterranean passages better, damsels in distress better, and tyrants with moodswings better, including Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis who were both responding to Walpole when they wrote their masterpieces. It’s one of the unfortunate difficulties of being first, I suppose, that you can become easily dwarfed by your imitators.
Still, the original holds up (as does The Blair Witch Project) in spite of all that have come after. And at a breathless 100 pages, you can’t call it a slog even if it’s not your thing. I wouldn’t call it essential reading, except for those who love Gothic Literature, but I would call it a good time. Particularly if you’re nerdy for history and are fascinated by how one piece of influential art can lead to so many others.
Researching this book has led to many rabbit holes and learning about topics I never knew I was interested in. A big part of why I enjoyed it so much, I think, can be attributed to the historical significance as much as to the text itself. For those inclined, I recommend this Oxford World’s Classics edition because of its lengthy introduction and excellent commentary.
Has anybody else read this? What did you think?
Follow for more reviews of the obscure and unusual =)
Prince Manfred of Otranto in medieval Italy is looking forward to the wedding of his only son Conrad, because the family name must continue...In those violent times, petty men try for glory against others of the same class , (the era of the Crusades also) Italian politics dictates noblemen have sons, to leave all their vast lands and wealth. Doesn't matter that Conrad is only fifteen and rather sickly boy, the distinguished Prince's family is composed of son Conrad, Matilda the daughter, three years older than her little brother and pious wife of Manfred , Hippolita . Isabella the intended but let's be fair , reluctant bride, a noblewoman, daughter of Frederick, fighting in the Holy Land . A rival to Manfred's claim to the estate of Otranto (in fact has a better one). Rumors circulate poor Frederick was killed, gladdens the usurper's heart however, Isabella has been kidnapped and being forced to marry Conrad. This the first Gothic novel, written in the distant year of 1764 by Horace Walpole 4th Earl of Orford , naturally very strange events occur. Such as a giant helmet unbelievably out of nowhere crushes the unlucky Conrad to death, apparently from the high ... not so empty sky. A youth tells the Prince that it resembles the helmet, of a statue from the nearby church, which is correct. The distraught father suspects witchcraft and immediately arrest Theodore, a young man, whose life is in danger of being cut short, in more ways than one....Other apparitions are seen by servants in the castle, some too strange to be real... a fact though . Frustrated Manfred comes up with an odd idea quite irrational ... divorce his wife and marry Isabella. Then a bad omen happens, the portrait of Manfred's grandfather floats from the wall, settling on the floor...Frightening the unnerved Prince, Isabella takes this great opportunity to flee. Going down the underground vault of the castle in the creepy darkness , an unknown threat closing in...with a lamp, alone, through the eerie passageway, she is very scared, who wouldn't be? Hearing weird noises, is Manfred chasing her...Then the lamp's candle goes out, what can Isabella do. This scene has been copied many times down the centuries and still effective. Primitive yet enjoyable romp into a world which sadly never was , still should have been.
By today’s standard’s The Castle of Otranto is a ridiculous piece of melodrama. However, when it was originally published it was absolute dynamite.
It had the power to shock and dazzle its earliest of readers. They were innocent and unused to horror; thus, it was utterly compelling for them. Such a thing is comparable to early cinema. Audiences were thrilled by silent movie car chases and actions scenes. If we watch them today they are unexciting and laughable. Truly great literature is timeless. Frankenstein will never stop being brilliant nor will Dracula or Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, The Castle of Otranto is far from great literature. It is too stuck in its era to be considered effective and, structurally speaking, it is dreadful.
There is no set up or beginning per say, but, again, Walpole is not entirely at fault because the novel was still very, very, new at this point. Austen had not yet come along to give it structure and meaning. On the first page of this we are introduced to the characters, their lineages and personalities. On page two one is crushed by an ethereal floating helmet of sorts. It’s like Walpole doesn’t quite know how to pace. Instead he has ideas, idea he cannot wait to blurt out at the first opportunity without first creating any sense of character.
Although I found myself cringing at the plot, laughing at the overdone horror moments and yawning at the resolution, it would be remiss of me to ignore the book’s place in the cannon of horror literature. It was the first ever horror novel, effectively, it is a piece of writing that inspired other more talented writers to go on and produce better works. They took Walpole's themes and ideas and perfected them. For those interested in tracking the development of the horror genre this is certainly and interesting to read.
The best way to approach this is as an academic curiosity, a piece of writing that carries a lot of history and significance, but, ultimately, it isn’t that great to begin with.
This classic was sooo baaad. You know in these fancy introductions when these big shot professors are frothing about how brilliant this thing is that you are now about to read, well, in the introduction to this book the guy tells you right there he’s sorry but this is a baaaad book
The dream origin of The Castle of Otranto has been mentioned more often as an explanation for its shortcomings than as a cause for enthusiasm. From the start, its wildness invited derision…wooden characterisation….the amateurish self-indulgence of its supernatural effect…
Guy says that the only reason to read this is not because it’s any good but because it was the first – the first Gothic novel. Well, there’s another reason – it’s short. That is a very good thing. Any longer and you would be launching yourself over a vast precipice with a wild unearthly howl.
This story is about Manfred, lord of this Italian castle, whose feeble son is getting married that day, but then a servant rushes in to say there’s been a nasty accident. Manfred goes to check it out :
He beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet.
This helmet is really big. How it fell on top of this guy’s son is something I was keen to discover – where do gigantic helmets come from? This is not something that happens every day. But (spoiler alert) we never get to find out. Anyway they drag the dead son away. A little later there’s an uppity peasant who irritates Manfred and so he puts the giant helmet to another use. The peasant is
kept prisoner under the helmet itself, which he ordered his attendants to raise, and place the young man under it, declaring he should be kept without food
That’s the way this Manfred rolls. If you annoy me I will trap you underneath a giant helmet which has only just appeared.
Next thing that happens is that Manfred has a brainwave – the woman his son was going to marry is a hot babe, so he thinks – hey, I just realised that an inexplicable giant helmet appearing from nowhere and crushing my son to death is a sign that I should divorce my wife and marry this hot young babe who was going to marry my son! Now I think about it, it’s obvious! When presented with this change of plan, Isabella, the bride to be, is not impressed.
Words cannot paint the horror of the princess’s situation.
But he then proceeds to use a bucketful of them anyway. When Manfred’s wife is informed of his plan to divorce her, she likewise is unimpressed, but her maidservant offers some salty advice
Oh madam, said Bianca, all men use their wives so, when they are weary of them.
A bad husband is better than no husband at all.
So you can’t write her down in the list of great feminists. Now I thought the mad twists of giant body parts and improbable escapes and duelling and stabbing the wrong person was going to make this a fun read – after all Manfred comes out with likes like
Have done with this rhapsody of impertinence
Thou shalt experience the wrath with which thou darest to trifle
Which is excellent, something I will be using myself when I next get a snooty waiter. Actually everyone has a very laborious way with words – sample dialogue:
"Impede me not, or thou will repent having provoked my resentment."
"Thy purpose is as odious as thy resentment is contemptible."
But the last half of the book is just a horrible tedious series of interminable arguments between the four or five gentlemen and ladies involved, all of them revealing they were the real Lord of Otranto because of their father had a giant foot or they were kidnapped by savage corsairs or they gave birth to a giant foot in a convent which can now be revealed as the real Lord of Otranto. Blah blah blah. I think whatever Horace Walpole had taken when he started writing this thing, it had clearly worn off by half way, and he should have bought some more.
The Castle of Otranto is a Gothic novel in its infancy. Being the first in the genre, perhaps it's natural for it to be so. The mystery and horror elements, the characteristic features of this genre, are in their early stages which need to be developed. That is this modern reader's perspective. :) However, this is an 18th-century novel and I'm not privy to the tastes and expectations of the readers of that time. It's possible they might have thought the features of mystery and horror were enough and satisfying. To this reader, they were more amusing than generating horror! It sounds ridiculous. But the supernatural incidents such as helmets falling on their own, appearance of threatening skeletons, sighing of portraits hung on the wall, loud voices prophesying the doom of usurper of power were rather comical than fear generating.
However, even though the gothic element in this novel was in its infancy, it didn't stop this reader from enjoying this short novel. It was a fun read altogether. All along she felt as if she were watching a dramatic comedy being unfolded. There was much melodrama which heightened her amusement. :) There is also tragedy, make no mistake. But the intended emotions were bounced off from this reader because they were drowned in a much stronger whirlpool of comedy.
This reader is not too fond of recommending books because she believes different readers have different wants and tastes and that imposing on others about a book is rather a check on literary freedom. Nevertheless, she wishes to make an exception here in case Goodreads ratings deter any potential reader from attempting it. So dear readers, if you feel like reading this, take heart and go ahead. Whatever disappointment you may feel, you'll still have fun. That's guaranteed. :)
Shovel loads of gothicness with a daft plot and formulaic characters; this is regarded as the first gothic novel. Walpole tries to create a new genre quite consciously by combining the new romance style of eighteenth century novels and the older tradition of fantastical tales. Walpole also introduces a number of gothic tropes for the first time; strange and eerie goings on, things that go bump in the night, rapacious and predatory men, beautiful and endangered heroines and a spot of ghostliness. He uses the Shakespearean idea of making the ghost the teller of truth. So it’s really a case of nice ideas, shame about the plot. The plot revolves around Manfred, Lord of the Castle of Otranto, his long suffering wife Hippolita, his son and heir Conrad (killed in the first chapter by an oversized helmet; the reason for the whole dreary tale), Conrad’s intended Isabella who becomes the object of Manfred’s lascivious intentions once he realises he is heirless, Matilda the daughter of Manfred; Theodore, a mysterious peasant who keeps popping up at opportune moments and who isn’t all he seems (Oh really!!), Father Jerome, a cleric who is also not all he seems, Bianca the comic relief servant (I think Walpole had read too much Shakespeare!) and finally Frederic, a mysterious knight who turns up to reveal a secret. As you may have sensed it didn’t really engage me, apart from the fact that it is an interesting period piece. The plot works its way through and some loose ends are tied up; with the odd untimely death and the realisation that as always the rich can get away with murder! It is groundbreaking, but later attempts at gothic are much better (Mary Shelley for one).
El castillo es el personaje principal de la novela y no Manfredo, Mathilda, Hipólita, Isabela, Teodoro o Jerónimo... Lo sobrenatural, el gótico y lo terrorífico empezó aquí, en 1764, cuando Horace Walpole publicó esta novela, dando pie al Romanticismo y a grandes autores como Ann Radcliffe con “Los misterios de Udolfo”, William Beckford y su novela “Vathek”, Charles Maturin con “Melmoth, el errabundo” o la novela “El monje” de Matthew Lewis. Posteriormente, Edgar Allan Poe retomaría la ambientación gótica en sus cuentos para llevarlos a la perfección estilística y narrativa. La ambientación opresiva del castillo de Otranto, con la aparición de ese yelmo gigante que aplasta al hijo de Manfredo será el disparador de todas las situaciones que allí se presenten, incluídos una serie de enredos que oscilan entre la tragedia griega y el drama shakrespeareano, articulado de manera perfecta por Walpole, todo un maestro en este tipo de enredos, en donde lo ominoso del castillo acompaña a todo lo que se desencadene sobre el final. El castillo, con sus pasadizos, bóvedas, galerías, criptas, sótanos y túneles domina la psiquis de los personajes y en cierta manera los hechiza sumándole a toda la confusión general que estos viven, la aparición de distintos sucesos sobrenaturales. Antes de que el lector de hoy conociera la novela negra, los autores del pasado, los románticos y los grandes exponentes del género en la actualidad, tuvieron que leer a Walpole antes de poner manos a la obra.
WARNING: 1001 BOOK THAT THE WRITERS OF THE 1001 BOOKS LIST WANTED TO TORTURE YOU WITH BEFORE YOU DIE
(NB do not assume that said death will be unrelated to the reading of this book.... boredom kills, people.)
This book is very Shakespearian in style and therefore metaphorically and allegorically weighty despite being such a short, light paperback book. I was suckered into reading this because it was a short read. You know how it is, on a whim sometime ago (Christmas 2009), you manfully pledge to read all the books on the 1001 books to read before you die list. Like a premature New Years resolution for self betterment, but instead of chucking in the booze or fags (that's cigarettes to you folks in the US of A), you decide to acquire an expensive habit rather than giving one up. Many books later and you decide to pseudo-cheat your way to a higher number of 1001 books by picking the shortest books off the list and think yourself clever for doing so.... uh huh.... not so much as it turns out because as with Don DeLillos The Body Artist and The Castle of Otranto, that kind of tactical stratagem of 1001 book cherry picking will come back to bite you on the arse good style.
To say that this book can be difficult to read in places is probably a moderate understatement. My Ye Olde Lingo ear/eye is totally out having abandoned this kind of book after A-Level English Lit was mercifully behind me, so it was like being plunged back into curriculum reading again but without the benefits of a young unscrambled mind to back it up.
First off, weird things happen. Big helmets fall on people. Why? Absolutely no idea. Novel way to kill off someone though I must admit... falling millinery is not an obvious weapon of choice. The rest of the book is more serious. Was the helmet not comedy? Oh.
Mostly I enjoyed the fact that the female characters were very much at the centre of the plot which must have been unusual for the period in which the book was written, although admittedly, it is more the state of their emotions, particularly towards their men-folk which puts them at the heart of this rather than their own characters and motivations. Their lives are dictated by the men around them (most of whom some to be self serving, self aggrandising and unfaithful!).
Manfred gets extra evil baddie points for trying to trade in his wife for a younger model with the rather rubbish excuse that he's only doing it with the country's best interests at heart! Mostly I felt that I'd have enjoyed this more if someone would write this as a screen play and present it in the style of a Carry-On film. I don't know why but it just had that sort of feel to it.
Overall a fairly slog-worthy read. You might find yourself hoping to get squashed by a giant helmet just to put you out of your misery.
Prince Gets Squashed by Giant Airborne Helmet! Full News on Page Six! Lord of Otranto Says - "Sorry, the Castle Ain't Mine!" FULL Interview with Covergirl Isabella - "He was Never the One for Me!" Love Advice from Star-Struck Pair! Theodore and Matilda Tell All - How YOU Can Find True Love in Just Ten Seconds! Jerome and Hippolita's 'Faithful's Corner': Why Entering a Monastery's the Only Way to Go! The Commoner's Chronicle: Bianca and her Fellows Tell Why THEY'RE the Ones Who Saved Otranto!
Phew. Sorry. With a novel like Otranto it's hard not to inject a little sarcasm into the reviewing of the book. In honour of Horace Walpole - father of Gothic fiction - I'm going to write this review with as many dashes - and breaks - as I possibly can.
It's not difficult to see why Otranto is still an important book today. As a novel it marks the beginning of a new form of popular fiction - the Gothic - which would never quite die down. Its ancestors are alive and well today - Just look at the shelves of any YA section in any bookstore in the world.
So. It's an important book. It's pretty famous, too. Added to that, it's short, at a measly 100-or-so pages. It's a quick read, even if a little challenging.
Primarily, it's challenging because of the way it's written - kind of like this - with speech - bless old Horace Walpole - not even graced with a new line each time it presents itself. This leads to the disturbing technical difficulty of the text blending into one huge hunk. You really have to concentrate on your reading - or you find yourself drifting off. Everything happens rather quickly, so you might find that by the time you tune in, five different things have happened and you've completely lost the thread of the plot.
And what is the plot? Well, it's fairly simple. The son of Manfred, lord of Otranto, is killed on his wedding day to Isabella, by the aforementioned magical flying helmet. Manfred, who now needs a male heir, decides - oh, that most blackhearted of villains! - that he's going to divorce his wife Hippolita and marry Isabella. As a Gothic villain I would have expected him to try and kill Hippolita, so I guess Manfred gets points for good behaviour.
And there's romance; a love triangle, between Theodore, Matilda - daughter of Manfred - and Isabella. Theodore, the dashing young hero, speaks surprisingly well for a man who was a slave on a pirate ship for most of his youth. But that's pirates for you.
Because the book is so short, there's very little time to develop the characters. Walpole seems to sit on the fence about Manfred in particular. The women characters are simple and boring, as in most Gothic fiction - they exist simply as victims. Take Hippolita - "It is not ours to make election for ourselves; heaven, our fathers, and our husbands, must decide for us." (Otranto, Chapter IV) But Manfred could potentially be seen as a bit more complex. One moment he's hurrying around trying to divorce his wife - "I desired you once before, said Manfred angrily, not to name that woman; from this hour she must be a stranger to you, as she must be to me ... too long has she cursed me by her unfruitfulness..." (Otranto, Chapter I) - but Walpole rushes to assure us that he's not all bad - he has a tender heart, we're told, which is not unsusceptible to goodness. Then he goes around trying to stab his would-be daughter-in-law (because, of course, the way to solve any problem is to stab the pretty woman. That'll make everything better) and ends up killing his daughter.
"Manfred, whose spirits were inflamed, and whom Isabella had driven from her on his urging his passion with too little reserve ... Provoked ... and enraged at her father [Frederic], he hastened secretly to the great church ... the tyrant, drawing his dagger ... plung[ed] it over her shoulder ... -Ah me, I am slain! cried Matilda sinking ... -Stop ... cried Matilda; it is my father! Manfred, waking as from a trance, beat his breast ... and endeavoured to recover his dagger from Theodore to dispatch himself. ...Matilda, resigning herself to her fate ... she begged the assistants to comfort her father. I took thee for Isabella [cried Manfred]; but heaven directed my bloody hand to the heart of my child!" (Otranto, Chapter V)
Oh, no. How embarrassing. Looks quite exciting, doesn't it? I must admit that bit was, though I wanted to slap Matilda for being a wet blanket. Then Manfred rushes to assure us, himself, that he's not really a bad guy; "My ancestor was really the evil one!" he cries, conveniently pinning the blame on a guy who can't refute his arguments on account of being dead:
"I would draw a veil over my ancestor's crimes-but it is in vain: Alfonso died by poison ... I pay the price of usurpation for all!" (Otranto, Chapter V)
Oh. Poor Manfred. But don't worry! Be jolly! Both his kids are dead, but that's OK, because he goes into a monastery with his wife and lives happily ever after. After a surprise appearance from a cloaked skeleton - the one bit in the book where I sat up and said, 'This is going to get good!' - Frederic is told - "Remember the wood of Joppa!" Ah, Joppa. I remember it well. Stopped by this apparition from doing something hasty - like trying to marry the gorgeous Matilda, for instance, that sinful dog! - it leaves, never to grace us with its presence again. We never really do find out what happened in Joppa. But religious conversion brightens that oh-so-jolly ending. Order and balance are restored! Tyrants are reformed! Lovers united! (Except for Matilda, poor dear, on account of having been stabbed in the heart by Daddy)
All jokes aside, though, Otranto is an interesting read. It's easy to see why Walpole enjoyed writing it so much. Like many Gothic texts (think Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) it originated in a dream. "The work grew on my hands," Walpole said, "and I grew fond of it ... I was so engrossed with my tale ... I completed [it] in less than two months..." (Letter to the Rev. William Cole) In 'blending two types of romance: the old and the new' Walpole pioneered a popular genre which has as yet refused to die down. It really is a landmark in popular literature, and a triumph for the Gothic elements of storytelling over the seriousness of Enlightenment writers. Three cheers for our boy Horace!
Walpole invented the word ‘gloomth’, which more or less sums him up. Innovative, but only while looking backwards. You have to approach The Castle of Otranto as literary history, if you want to get much out of it; reading it as plain literature doesn't work. So effective was its aesthetic in generating an entirely new genre that its successors almost immediately made it obsolete. To a modern audience, Walpole's litany of ghostly contrivances, hidden identities, heaving bosoms and earnest declamations can only seem parodic, and even to a contemporary audience it was regarded as a bit silly.
Every now and then, he'll write a sentence like: ‘Arriving there, he sought the gloomiest shades, as best suited to the pleasing melancholy that reigned in his mind,’ and you can immediately see how formative this must have been to the evolution of writers like Edgar Allen Poe. But the basic groundwork of plot development and exposition is incredibly rough; huge changes of scene and character are dispensed with mid-sentence, and nonsensical revelations are tossed off right, left and centre. The book is also a lot longer than it looks, since the dialogue is bunched together in single paragraphs without any speech marks.
What can still be made out is the establishment of some key iconography for what would become the Gothic novel: a foreign (non-English), specifically Catholic setting; deviant sexual threat; alluring heroines in peril; supernatural phenomena; gloomth (almost the whole novel takes place either at night, or underground); and a good old-fashioned crumbling castle.
For Walpole, this was an attempt to write medieval romances with a deliberately modern sensibility. And also a deliberately political sensibility. The Gothic novel as he conceived it was a specifically Whiggish thing – a comfortable melancholic sigh, on behalf of Protestant parliamentarians, over all those ruined abbeys and monasteries that England had dissolved two centuries previously. (Walpole was a Whig MP himself, and his father had been Prime Minister.)
Maybe this angle is a clue to understanding why this particular conjunction of themes and moods struck such a chord in eighteenth-century England, which it obviously did – a generation later, these ideas absolutely exploded through art and literature. Most of those who took it up did it better than Walpole, but at least he got there first – which perhaps is reason enough, for those who are interested, to read this dense, absurd, groundbreaking novella.
(NB, the Oxford Classics edition is to be preferred – mainly for the Fuseli picture on the cover.)
Having spent three years in Bloomington getting drunk with fiction writers, I feel that I came dangerously close to losing my ability to appreciate trash. But, thankfully, not so! _The Castle of Otranto_, by Horace Walpole, is not only trash, but ground-breaking, historical, trend-setting trash. It is lauded as the first Gothic novel in English (published, anonymously at first, in 1764). And what a remarkable heap of words it is!
_The Castle of Otranto_ is preposterous, both in content and structure: nearly half of the "action" occurs in dialogue, much of which is Walpole's apparent attempts to capture the extreme reluctance of one nobleman, through speech, to trouble another nobleman, even if lives hang in the balance. A common interchange might run thusly:
Diego (a manservant): Oh, it was awful! Manfred (lord of Otranto): What sawest thou?! Diego: I didn't see anything! Manfred: What? Diego: Jaquez saw it. Manfred: Where is he? Jaquez (another manservant): Right here, my lord! Manfred: What did you see? Jaquez: It was horrible! Manfred: What was it? Jaquez: It was incredible! Manfred: What was incredible?! Jaquez: What I saw! Manfred: Tell me what it was! Jaquez: I can't! Holy crap! Diego: I can tell you! Manfred: But, I thought you didn't see it. Diego: I didn't, my lord. Manfred: Then how can you tell me what it is? Diego: I heard it! Oh, awful! Manfred: What did you hear, then?! Diego: It was really, really loud!
And so on. The plot itself is ridiculous, full of stock characters, ridiculous reversals of fortune, and supernatural curses. But, I found I couldn't put it away - I put it down, absolutely, and frequently - but I couldn't quite put it away.
Manfred, the count of Castle Otranto, has arranged a marriange between his son, Conrad, and Isabella, a "virtuous virgin"-type from the next principality. The marriage has been hastily arranged at Manfred's behest, and nobody is sure why. But here, around the bottom of page 1, is where we get conflict: Conrad becomes crushed beneath a giant metal helmet that seems to have fallen from the sky. The man Manfred believes is the criminal (or necromancer, if you prefer), is imprisoned beneath the helmet. Then, Manfred tries to seduce the fair Isabella, in order to produce a new male heir. But wait! Didn't I mention that Manfred is married already, to the fair and virtuous Hippolita? What's to be done?
That brings you up to about page three. What unfolds from there is ridiculous, the kind of story a man hopped up on crack might shout to passersby from beneath a bridge. But it is, well, interesting, and though poorly written, and full of tropes, pretty inventive at the same time. It won't change your life, but if your tired of books changing your life, this might be a nice pick for a rainy day.
I liked one sentence from The Castle of Otranto. In the middle of the tyrant Manfred's long-ass soliloquy to an enormous retinue of knights and other attendants a rival nobleman has sent to pay a visit, we get this: "The knights gazed on each other, wondering where this would end."
The “infant” of gothic novels, The Castle of Otranto begins with plentiful theatrics and moves at a refreshingly quick pace. This was a very short, entertaining book full of bizarre and supernatural happenings, lots of drama, a villainous prince, gracious princesses (and perhaps one changeable princess), comic attendants, and mysterious strangers. An ancient prophecy shadows the castle and its inhabitants, and the reader gets a glimpse of the prophecy coming to fruition in the very first chapter. Many times I found myself snickering at some of the outlandish events and the dialogue itself. “At that instant the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast.” Creepy, but yet I can’t help but wonder if Horace Walpole would have been pleased to know that scenes like this were also a bit amusing (to this reader at least)!
In some ways this novel reminded me of a Shakespearean drama; I am not certain if this was deliberate or not, but now having read some of the reviews, I see that I am not alone in this notion. Parts of this work were predictable, while other events were both surprising and suspenseful. I was not prepared for the ending! If you are interested in the gothic genre and in learning more about the influence this work had on later gothic novels as well as contemporary horror novels, then you should take a look at The Castle of Otranto.
Note, Oct. 26, 2022: I just edited this review slightly, to supply an omitted predicate phrase in one clause, which I didn't catch until I did a reread just now. I'm amazed that I'd missed that before!
To fully appreciate the significance of this novel, we have to understand the literary and cultural climate of Western Europe in 1764. The 1500s and 1600s had seen unprecedented social, cultural, religious, economic, technological and political change, which made the literate classes well aware that they had entered a new era of human history that marked a sharp break with the immediate past. A flood of new inventions and discoveries enhanced the prestige of science and Reason as the only legitimate fountainheads of truth; supposed clear-eyed, logical rationalism was in, and "superstition" and sloppy human emotions were passe.' At the same time, the Renaissance had sparked a rebirth of awareness and appreciation for the thought and culture of classical antiquity, which came to be seen as the embodiment of rationality, order, sobriety and harmonious balance in society, art, literature, and architecture. (Of course, that represents a very selective recapturing of the Greco-Roman world, that ignored all of its more sordid and Dionysian aspects; but it passed for reality in the minds of 18th-century intellectuals.) To the adherents of the Neoclassical school of thought that dominated European civilization from about 1688 to 1789, the days of ancient Greece and Rome were the Golden Age; the medieval period was a long. horrible Dark Age in which the dirty, ignorant barbarians ran roughshod over refined culture (the Goths were one of the main barbarian tribes that overthrew the Roman Empire, so anything medieval was "Gothic"); and the "modern" era was the glorious new dawn in which the example of classic antiquity was lighting the way to another Golden Age. (We actually get our whole "ancient, medieval, and modern" schema of historical periodization from the Neoclassicists of that day.)
This school of thought shaped the way prose literature in most of the 18th century was written; there were very definite rules, and the critics of that day parroted and enforced them. Sentences were ponderous and complex, but carefully balanced in terms of number of clauses, modifiers, etc.; elegance and regularity of style, in adherence to ancient models, was everything, and writers cultivated a dry, ponderous tone devoid of emotion. Nor did they try to arouse feeling in the reader; appeal was strictly to the dispassionate intellect. In fiction, the subject matter was their own time, not the past, and stories were to have a plot that a "reasonable" person could believe. (Gulliver's Travels is a seeming exception that tests the rule, but even there, Swift writes his tale as a dispassionate, purportedly real travel account, and Juvenalian cultural satire trumps thrill or adventure in the story-telling.) The supernatural rarely appears, and if it does, in stories like "A True Account of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal" or "The Vision of Mirzah," it's just a rhetorical device for religious or philosophical instruction, not a menacing element with a real scare factor.
Enter Horace Walpole. :-) He wasn't enamoured of the tastes of an age that, as he wrote in a letter in 1767, "wants only cold reason." Rather, he aimed quite frankly to, as Sir Walter Scott would write in his introduction to this novel's 1811 edition, "excite the passions of fear and of pity." Moreover, he was quite interested in (gasp!) the Middle Ages, set his tale squarely in medieval Italy during the Crusades (mid-12th or 13th century), and treats medieval people and culture as worth knowing about. And he aimed to restore a kind of storytelling that gave the writer freedom to let "the powers of fancy" range through "the boundless realms of invention," thus "creating more interesting situations" (Preface to the 2nd ed.), without being shackled to conventional realism. So, with this book, he created the first modern English novel set in the past, the first supernatural fiction novel, and the first example of what we now call "Gothic" fiction (with a heroine in danger in the setting of a big, scary old dwelling and an atmosphere of spooky menace). It was the first salvo of the Romantic movement in literature, which would displace Neoclassicism by the end of the 18th century.
In the same Preface quoted above, Walpole commented, in a moment of modesty, "...if the new route he [the author] has struck out shall have paved a road for men of brighter talents, he shall own with pleasure and modesty, that he was sensible the plan was capable of receiving greater embellishments than his imagination or conduct of the passions could bestow on it." He proved prophetic there; most readers would say that a number of literary men (and women!) who followed him in developing the Romantic, supernatural, Gothic and medieval-set strains of fiction he set in motion displayed brighter talents than he did. This novel has its undeniable flaws, the biggest one being that his characters are cardboard, more two-dimensional types than people we really feel like we know. Some aspects of his supernatural phenomena aren't explained well, or aren't followed up after being introduced. Some of the female characters' acceptance of oppressive patriarchy can be eye-rolling (though some display more independence and agency at times!), and there are places where the dialogue is excessively melodramatic. (It also takes getting used to that he doesn't use quotation marks, or separate speech by different characters into different paragraphs, but that's not his fault; in 1764, those conventions weren't yet fully developed in prose fiction.)
For all that, the book does have its pluses. The story-telling is brisk-paced; at only 110 pages of actual text, unlike some doorstop-sized 18th and 19th-century tomes, this is a quick read, and the diction is not intimidating (at least, not to me --granted, I have an ease with old-style prose that comes from reading it as a kid and never developing a prejudice against it, but I think any modern reader with an adult reading level could enjoy this without difficulty). There are really no dull moments (we start with a violent death four paragraphs into the story!); it held my interest throughout, and even though Walpole's characterizations are not sharp, I did like and root for certain characters, and genuinely cared about what would happen to them. Concealed identity would become a common Romantic trope; but given medieval conditions, it's not unrealistic here. Although Manfred, prince of Otranto, is an arrogant, self-serving tyrant, Walpoles's own attitude and message here is solidly moral. In reading this, I noted the Shakespeare-like treatment of the servants in the book (Walpole's own preface notes Shakespeare's influence there, and defends the Bard against the Neoclassicist Voltaire who had disparaged him on that grounds). An added advantage of the 1964 Oxford Univ. Press printing that I read is the Introduction by Walpole scholar W. S. Lewis, who notes not only that, but a number of other Shakespeare parallels and influences here.
My overall rating of the book is positive. If my review picques your interest (rather than scaring you off! :-) ), I'd recommend giving the book a try; and if you're a serious student of literature, it's a must-read.
Amabile divertissement a base di gotiche atmosfere, lugubri fantasmi, visioni e suggestioni medioevali, un castello vetusto e quasi gormenghastiano, buoni sentimenti in stile manzoniano. Oppure, lo si può anche definire come una storia a metà via tra la tragedia shakespeariana e il feuilletton ottocentesco in cui la morale, supportata da una trama abbastanza intricata per un centinaio di paginette, intende dimostrare che le colpe dei padri ricadono sui figli.
Mentre il cuore della storia vuole essere a tema tragico e spaventoso, il contorno propone alcune scenette comiche e/o grottesche, specialmente laddove intervengono i servi del castellano che sono vere e proprie macchiette. La cosa è del tutto intenzionale, come spiegato dall'autore nella prefazione: il suo intento è infatti quello di seguire l'esempio del sommo Shakespeare, il quale come si sa scrive tragedie ma non si vergogna di inframmezzare il dramma con personaggi e dialoghi che possano suscitare il sorriso. Allo stesso modo, Walpole si è divertito a mescolare ingredienti in contrasto tra loro: passato e presente, paura e comicità, realtà e surreale e fantasia. Certo se paragonato a quel che si può leggere oggi, questo scritto risulta sminuito e suscita nel lettore un effetto molto all'acqua di rose; bisogna tuttavia riconoscere i dovuti meriti ad un testo così scorrevole sia in italiano che in inglese (bella l'edizione con testo originale a fronte!), sufficientemente coinvolgente e che sa mantenere alta la tensione dall'inizio alla fine del racconto: se penso che risale alla metà del diciottesimo secolo, vengono quasi le vertigini per quanto questo testo è precursore della letteratura moderna e contemporanea.
Comunque, interpretato e valutato per quelli che sono i gusti e canoni moderni, è una di quelle opere invecchiate un po' malino e le tre stelline brillano della generosità così fervidamente invocata da Walpole stesso, in apertura, per la sua opera.
No, no e assolutamente no! Il castello di Otranto è il capostipite del genere gotico, ma se avessi iniziato a leggere da questo, mi sa che lo avrei recluso nel dimenticatoio. Ma partiamo per gradi: il romanzo ha una scrittura che pare una caricatura, è vero che parliamo di un libro scritto più di 250 anni fa, ma allora vuol dire che è invecchiato tanto e malissimo. Poi la storia: all'inizio non mi ha preso granchè, non riuscivo a seguirlo, mi pareva che le disavventure procedessero in modo confusionario, non riuscivo a capire cosa facesse chi e perchè si fosse arrivati ad un certo punto. Fortunatamente arrivato a metà, la storia si è rivelata più coinvolgente e comprensibile, per poi ricadere in un finale forzatamente contorto e farraginoso. Se poi ci aggiungiamo una sequela di personaggi al limite del ridicolo e senza un minimo di dignità per la propria persona (soprattutto le donne), eccomi servito questo deludente e prolisso romanzo!
This novel is the first Gothic horror story, written in 1764. It is a 3 swooner on the humorous Guardian newspaper gothic rating scale (shown below) with Hippolita swooning twice and Matilda once.
It also is set in a cursed or haunted castle in a foreign land with people who talk in an outdated manner (other criteria of the Guardian newspaper for classic Gothic horror stories). In fact, many of what we now consider stereotypes of Gothic horror had their origins in this book!
A quick and satisfactorily spooky book - I wish I had saved it for Halloween!
"Tu semblante, tus acciones, toda tu adorable persona parece una emanación divina, pero tus palabras son oscuras y misteriosas"
El castillo de Otranto cuenta el destino de esta región durante el siglo XII con respecto a los reyes y nobles que ahí habitan. Manfred es el príncipe de Otranto el cual le vino en herencia a través de su abuelo, aunque es conocido por algunos como un usurpador pues el linaje del verdadero rey Alfonso se perdió. En el castillo vive con su hijo Conrad quien espera desposar a la joven princesa hija del rey Federico, además con su esposa la princesa Hipólita y su hija Matilda. Cuando está a punto de cumplirse el deseo de todos Conrad es fulminado por un casco enorme del cual nadie sabe cómo ha salido semejante portento y todo parece ser que es un castigo divino. Y eso es lo que se va a contar durante este relato que la verdad es demasiado atrapante, aunque el estilo es un poco sencillo (tampoco tanto) el hilo de la acción está muy bien construido y disfruté no sólo el argumento principal sino que a cada paso de la historia parecía que se agregaba una dificultad o un nuevo "nudo". La relación de los personajes es de las cosas que más me gustó, al inicio todo parece estar bien pero poco a poco ellos mismos dudan de sí mismos y sobre todo del otro, empiezan intrigas, desconfianzas, celos y un largo etcétera que se ve aderezado por la introducción de un nuevo personaje, un campesino que parece va a ser sacrificado injustamente. Las personaes en relato parecen todas buenas pero poco a poco afloran algunos detalles dantescos e incluso malévolos. Debo decir sin embargo que su papel final me pareció muy almibarado y como que simplificó la historia y sus consecuencias. La obra es sobre todo teatral, sería una pieza excelente dramática. Tiene frases de desesperanza, intervención de fenómenos alegóricos e inexplicables y todo el pueblo vive permanentemente en zozobra, lo cual hace bastante atractiva la lectura.
I really liked this first gothic mystery novel that set everything in motion. Wow, all those characters interwoven with each other. The dark family secret., the supernatural elements (a bit cheesy but nevertheless a bit eerie). Manfred's plans to marry Isabella and the plans for his daughter. Theorode and Jerome. The role of the Marquis. It is a classic romance (almost a blueprint for all other romances) with eerie elements and ghostly appearances. But a very fluent read (there are other works from that time that are extremely tedious by comparison). Great idea of Horace Walpole claiming he found that manuscript and translated it from Italian into English! No wonder it was a bestseller back then. I can easily imagine the novel performed as a play on any stage. I can highly recommend that novel to everyone who's interested in intrigues, eerie castles and mysterious occurrences. A genre classic!
3.5* This book is considered as the first English Gothic novel and I think this is one of the most oldest books I have read too!
I wouldn't reccomend this book to anyone for the reading experience because there are far better books than this. But Gothic literature has always been one of my favourite genre and several famous books were written by authors who got inspiration from this work. So for that literary value, this book can be read. It's a short book too.
Here we see Manfred who is the lord of the Castle of Ontrato and it's the day of his son Conrad's marriage to Isabella. Unfortunately some dark forces kill his only son. Angry that his throne doesn't have a heir, he plans on marrying the young Isabella. She flees from the castle with the help of a farmer who has been locked in the cellar. The man is arrested and is going to be beheaded and at that moment Manfred's daughter Mathilda sees him, they have feelings for each other and she saves his life. There are ghosts, dark castle, supernatural entities, a beast of a lord, damsels in distress and a charming peasant Theodore!
This book is definitely not great in terms of story and characters. There is no life to it. But if you are interested to know about the book that pioneered the Gothic horror/romance genre, then give it a try.
Ερευνώντας την ιστορία του γοτθικού μυθιστορήματος έφτασα ακριβώς στη ρίζα, δηλαδή σε αυτό ακριβώς το βιβλίο. Από εδώ ξεκινάει η πορεία αυτού του είδους που αργότερα έδωσε αριστουργήματα και επηρέασε σε μεγάλο βαθμό την παγκόσμια λογοτεχνία. Βέβαια η αλήθεια είναι ότι μάλλον δεν είναι ιδιαίτερα καλό αυτό το μυθιστόρημα, αν και σίγουρα είναι ένα ανάγνωσμα απαραίτητο κυρίως για ιστορικούς λόγους.
We are all reptiles, miserable, sinful creatures. It is piety alone that can distinguish us from the dust whence we sprung, and whither we must return.
The Goodreads reviews of this pioneer work are a caravan of groans; how sophisticated we've since become with our forensics and our shape-shfting (very-meta) protagonists. I may shudder and say, whoa, and allow the blush to fade from our consternation. Otranto is ridiculous, sure, but it is damn charming. Anyone ever encountered a contrivance or laughable twist in the Bard or even Nabokov: the car which killed Charlotte Haze dented our credulity, didn't it? I say onward with the GIANT HELMET! What lurks beneath is but prophesy and paternity. Walpole's book offers little in terms of fear. The pacing and revelation are no more haunting than a production of Hamlet. The notion of it being a "found" medieval text gives it sufficient distance to unnerve our sense of legacy.
Publicada por primera vez en 1764, "El Castillo de Otranto" es considerada la primera novela gótica, la obra que inició un género que sobrevive hasta nuestros días y nos ha dado obras magníficas como "Drácula" y "Carmilla". Esta novela aglutina todos los elementos básicos de la novela gótica: la damisela inocente en peligro, un villano con rasgos de depredador de jovencitas inocentes, la acción transcurre principalmente en un castillo medieval, con muchos pasadizos y secretos oscuros, cunde el miedo a lo sobrenatural o a las maldiciones vinculadas con la religión... Le doy tres estrellas y no más porque es una obra que fundó el género: no es una obra cumbre. La trama es sumamente sencilla, los personajes unidimensionales. El libro se lee en pocos días. Naturalmente, no tiene nada que pueda asustar a un lector contemporáneo.
Horace Walpole's 1764 Castle of Otranto is generally given credit as the first Gothic novel, which makes it interesting from a historical perspective, especially if you're into Gothic stuff, which I totally am because whee, virgins fleeing evil men in drafty castles in their nightgowns! Which this book totally has, and also enormous helmets falling from the sky and crushing dudes, which I can't decide if that's a bummer of a way to go or not.
From a literature perspective, it's pretty much average. Lots of plot twists, in that old-timey "everyone's related!" way. Competently written. It's not boring, but it is fairly goofy. At 125 pages, it's more of a novella, so you might as well read it.
Another read for my research into early horror as I work on my own supernatural Victorian tale, but in the end I have to agree with Lovecraft's assessment in his Supernatural Horror in Literature that Walpole's style is insipid and full of silly melodrama. It's not hard to see why it was so influential, as it introduced a great number of interesting ideas and symbols, but like so many books that inspired a genre, its the fact that original author did so little with those ideas that left room for better writers to improve upon it.
The Castle of Otranto is generally regarded as the novel that introduced the gothic literature tradition. Author Walpole's influences are obvious; the book reads like 18th century Shakespeare fan-fic, with squabbling peasants, mismatched romances, and inevitable tragedy. The story can be a slog at times, and the book is worth reading more for its historical significance than for enjoyment purposes.