The Castle of Otranto


Faint of heart…

Continuing with my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge 2017, I head for the granddaddy of Gothic literature The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (try to say it fast).  After reading some of the Goodreads reviews, I expected this to be a real chore, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this (gratefully) brief, at times silly tale. It helped that I found this beautiful Easton Press leather bound copy in my personal library. The moiré endpaper, satin book mark, color plates, and gold embossed leather cover enhanced my reading experience of this classic.

Written in 1764, the novel is set up like  a found manuscript dating back to the Crusades (kind of a Blair Witch Project marketing scheme, I suppose), and the (somewhat) Shakespearean language tries to support the ruse. The plot revolves around the nefarious castle lord Manfred who, after his frail son dies on his wedding day from being mysteriously brained by an enormous helmet, decides to fill in for the bridegroom (despite being already espoused) and marry the maiden Isabella in his son’s stead, causing the young bride to flee through a secret passageway to the neighboring church where she can take the veil and escape the horny Prince. En route, she meets a dashing commoner, Theodore, who turns out to be the right heir to the throne of Otranto. The enormous armored knight ghost who appears to challenge Manfred’s machinations against the true ruler is reminiscent of Hamlet’s ghost.

The author, Horace Walpole, was so intrigued with all things medieval he built his own castle, Strawberry Hill, which is now a museum of sorts. His obsession with secret passageways, tower dungeons, and fainting ladies is evident throughout the book–and I ate it up. Described as a romance, there is a love triangle in the story and I was drawn into the lover’s story. There is also a violent scene or two and some general haunted atmosphere (including the castle releasing pent-up vapors–lol), but I can’t imagine  The Castle of Otranto keeping any modern reader up and night. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read, and as a good student of Gothic literature, it’s satisfying to check this required text off my list. Next up (and I can’t wait) Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin.

The Castle of Otranto – worth reading in embossed leather

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