Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole

The Castle of Otranto
Horace Walpole

As "the earliest and most influential of the Gothic novels," I felt compelled to read The Castle of Otranto, especially as I love the genre. And, at about 100 pages, it wasn't difficult to tear through this classic novel.

The novel begins with the impending wedding of Conrad, son of Manfred (the prince of Otranto). Unfortunately, Conrad has just been killed by a giant...wait for it...helmet. Yes, a giant helmet. Conrad's death leads Manfred to set in motion a sequence of unhappy events, which all just so happen to illustrate the conventions of Gothic literature.

First, there's a damsel in distress and a domineering, lusty man who places her in peril. Then there's a spooky castle with secret passages, complete with a ghost or two. Add in a prophecy, a little insanity, a death or two, lots of swooning and fainting, and there you have it.

Unfortunately, like most melodramatic novels, the plot is contrived and the ending can be seen a mile away. Another gripe I had was the dialogue: instead of each speaker's words being separated from another's, it was all lumped together in one paragraph; quotation marks were not even used, which made it quite difficult to tell when one person finished speaking and another began. My final complaint was that it wasn't really scary or scandalous, especially compared to my favorite Gothic novel, The Monk.

In a nutshell: The Castle of Otranto is a must read if you enjoy Gothic literature. If you haven't been introduced to the genre, this is a fun, quick way to see Gothic lit in action. It isn't, however, the best book you'll ever read, but, c'mon - the guy got killed by a giant helmet.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3.5 out of 6 stars

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