The Castle of Otranto

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In "The Castle of Otranto," Manfred is a usurper who wants to consolidate his reign over Otranto by marrying his weak son off to Isabella, heir to a more legitimate prince. But there is an old prophecy which warns against such moves, and on the day of the wedding a gigantic iron helmet falls over Manfred's son's head. This monstrous mishap is only the beginning of this funnily creepy tale. But the plot, though wild and entertaining, is the least important thing about this 1764's novel. The really attractive, entertaining and literarily important thing is the creation of stereotypes: the foul weather; an ancient, dark castle full of closed halls, secret passages, corridors and doors; frightening apparitions; wicked tyrants desperate for fertile women; virtuous and pure ladies; heroic lads; dark and cold forests where ghosts appear, etc. Horace Walpole, who seems to have been an interesting man, must have had enormous fun writing this tone-setting book, which has had plenty of children in literature. Though imperfect in literary terms, "The Castle of Otranto" is well worth reading if for no other reason than to discover where many of the commonplaces in Gothic literature come from. The characters in "The Castle of Otranto" are more like "types" than living human beings. That said, the book is a breezy example of an early novel, before the Victorians got hold of the form and made the books longer and more "respectable." Author Horace Walpole was the son of the prominent 18th century politician Robert Walpole, who is satirized in John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" and in a number of works written by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Perhaps fortunately, Robert Walpole passed away before Horace wrote this book!

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  • English Horror tales
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  • Inheritance and succession
  • Inheritance and succession -- Fiction
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