Monday, October 29, 2012

Tales of the Gothic: The Castle of Otranto

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:

Gothic architecture
Lines of succession
The decline and fall of an ancient bloodline
Psychological terror
Questions of incest
Fantastical horror and supernatural events
Tyrannical patriarchal power
Threatened female
Ancient prophecy
Dark omens

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 . . .


  1. I haven't heard of this one but it sounds like something I'd love to check out.

  2. I've heard of it, but I've never read it. It sounds interesting, but, by the time I have time to work something new onto my list, I'll probably have forgotten about it again.

  3. Cool! I love Mrs. Radcliffe novels but I've never hear of Horace Walpole. Thanks for posting this!

  4. I heard of this one while studying Shakespeare's "M-beth" in college. I will definitely have to pick up a copy :D

    Thanks for the review,

  5. This is a book I've been obsessed with for several years now. It's important to note that some of my obsessions do not come with actual experience with the object of my obsession. Feel free to judge.

  6. Oh look, another book I need to acquire.

  7. I've never heard of this, but I really want to read it now. Just the age of it is quite compelling.

  8. I learned a lot from this post. Thanks. I definitely want to check it out now. It does make me wonder why no enterprising filmmaker has ever adapted it, though.

  9. Castle of Otranto's been on my to be read list for some time now. Your list made me chuckle, as I've been re-reading Anne Rice's Lasher and it contains just about every element you mentioned! :)
    Mina's Resurrection Blogfest!

  10. I read this a couple of years ago. Everything you say is true but I also think it's a bit, well, mad. I mean, what was the giant helmet thing about? Fun though.