18 September 2009
Book Review: The Castle of Otranto
Title: The Castle of Otranto
Author: Horace Walpole
Published: 1998 Pages: 115
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
Manfred wishes his son, Conrad, to marry Isabella, but after Conrad's death, Manfred decides the young bride should be his. Isabella disagrees and flees the castle. Over the next 100 pages, Manfred fights fate, religion, ghosts, and a thought-dead dad to marry Isabella and produce a heir.
In 1764 when Walpole published The Castle of Otranto it was a unique style of writing. With the inclusion of the supernatural, ambiance of mystery, hidden passageways, violent love affairs, and unclear identities, The Castle of Otranto marked the birth of the Gothic novel. A lovely accomplishment as far as I'm concerned.
The main problem with reading the novel today, however, is laughter. Laughter where it doesn't belong. The high drama and ridiculousness of events is a bit too much for me. For example, I have never in my life read a book, a serious book, where the inciting incident is the death of a young man by helmet squashing. Seriously, Conrad, son of Manfred the prince of Otranto, a sickly 15 year old boy, dies when a gigantic helmet falls on him. Following is a series of sightings involving super-sized body parts and armour...hmmm...
My second problem with the novel is the directly abusive, condescending, and violent attitude the male characters have towards the women. The four female characters - Bianca, Isabella, Hippolita, and Matilda - are alternately physically assaulted, emotionally abused, verbally reprimanded, or completely ignored. While I understand this as both a convention of Gothic writing and a commonplace of the time period, I still cringe at the nonchalant inclusion of such misogyny.
All that being said, however, I enjoyed the book. It was a quick trip through a fantastical world where ancestors come back as giant ghosts, monks reveal their human side, peasants make good, and pictures walk.
If I've missed yours, let me know.
Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books
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