18 September 2009

Book Review: The Castle of Otranto

Title: The Castle of Otranto
Author: Horace Walpole
Published: 1998 Pages: 115
Genre: Gothic
Rating: 4/5

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis

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.

My Thoughts

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.

Other Reviews
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  1. I believe this is one of the books that Catherine in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey reads...as she is very fond of Gothic novels. I also remember that in The Jane Austen Book Club, the character Grigg (sp?) read this one because he found out about it in reading Northanger Abbey for the book club. It sounds interesting. I'm going to have to check it out. Thanks for the great review!

  2. I was wondering where I had heard of this one before, then I read thetruebookaddict's comment and remembered! Sounds over the top.

  3. I'm glad it got 4/5 even if it the laughter comes from the wrong scenes! I'll get to this some day, I hope!

  4. I also laughed a LOT while reading this..I just couldn't help it :P I agree with you on the misogyny too, and that was definitely NOT amusing.

  5. TrueBookAddict - I definitely recommend reading it as long as it's done with the conscious knowledge that we live in a very different time.

    Chris - It is over the top, but as long as you don't read it as a "serious" novel, it's worth it.

    Rebecca - I enjoyed reading it; it just wasn't what I was expecting. Once I left my preconceived notions of serious gothic literature behind me, it was an enjoyable story.

    Nymeth - It's difficult sometimes to overlook misogyny, racism, etc. and remember when something was written.


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