Readathon: The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole

the castle of otrantoManfred is desperate for his only son to wed and carry the family lineage down in the Castle of Otranto. There is a prophecy that says that the Castle will return to its rightful owner when that owner is “too big” to fit in Castle. The book opens on Manfred’s son’s wedding day, with a giant helmet falling from the sky and killing Manfred’s son. The rest of the book is filled with giant limbs, wayfaring priests, hidden catacombs, ghostly spectres, and tainted love.

Sounds fun, eh? The Castle of Otranto was one of the earliest Gothic novels (if not THE earliest), and I was really looking forward to it after loving The Monk. Sadly, it didn’t really live up to my expectations. It’s not that it was a bad book, but it was sort of difficult to read. Like 7-page paragraph sort of difficult. The conventions of dialog at the time weren’t the same as now, so there were no quote marks and no breaks between speakers, so that it was difficult at times to follow who was saying what. I imagine I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been spending all my effort in unraveling the text itself. I wonder if a different edition might have been better…

But even without the textual issues, the story wasn’t very compelling to me. The characters were more in the old-fashioned archetype style rather than having individual characterizations, which has never worked well for me. Then there was the premise. All Gothic novels are meant to stretch the limits of your imagination, but this one stretched it just a bit too far for me. The whole “helmet falls from the sky” thing struck me as slightly absurd in a way that cross-dressing monks and the devil swooping a character across the sky didn’t. I’m well aware that not everyone would have this reaction, that cross-dressing monks and devil-swooping might seem just as (if not more) absurd than giant helmets falling from the sky, but for me, Otranto felt a little contrived. I appreciate what the book did – a genre has to get started somewhere, right? – but altogether it wasn’t my favorite Gothic novel.

About Amanda

Writing. Family. Books. Crochet. Fitness. Fashion. Fun. Not necessarily in that order. Note: agender (she/her).
This entry was posted in 2010, Adult, Prose and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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