Unlike Robert Louis Stevenson or Oscar Wilde, Horace Walpole is not a name readily recognized. However, he goes down in history for his significant contribution to the literary field. His attempt to combined elements of ancient Romanticism and modern realism into a new writing style were very effective; his most famous novel – The Castle of Otranto – is considered the very first Gothic novel.
Written in 1764, The Castle of Otranto sets the standards for the Gothic fiction. Components of the novel would later define the genre, including:
Lines of succession
The decline and fall of an ancient bloodline
Questions of incest
Fantastical horror and supernatural events
Tyrannical patriarchal power
With these elements Walpole skillfully sets the stage for generations of Gothic fiction to come. And yet we can see how the foundations of the genre pull from older literary works. For example, I think one of the most interesting things about The Castle of Otranto is its Shakespeare overtones. Walpole draws heavily on Shakespeare’s works – specifically Hamlet and Macbeth. From characters inspired by King Claudius and Malcolm, the son of a slain king, to ancient prophecies and ghostly appearances, Otranto echoes many of the dark mysteries in Shakespeare’s work.
I personally deem The Castle of Otranto one of the most fascinating ghost stories I've ever read. It’s mysterious and Gothic, full of ghosts and villains – not to mention a tragically beautiful love story. If you've never read it before, I’d highly recommend it. Especially during this darkest time of year . . .