I first read The Castle of Otranto too long ago as assignment for high school and thought it was very silly. However, it was the first gothic novel, written in 1764, and led the way toward a fascination with Gothic culture in a country littered with ruined Gothic churches and abbeys as a result of the so-called “Bloodless Revolution.” So, I put it on my Classics Club list to see what I think about it now.
Well, it’s a silly book. It is represented in the Preface as a manuscript written sometime between 1095 and 1243. Practically the first thing that happens in it is that Conrad, the son of Manfred, prince of Otranto, has a gigantic helmet fall on him out of nowhere and crush him to death on the day he is to be betrothed to Isabella, the Marquiz of Vincenza’s daughter. This is the first supernatural event in a very short book that includes walking portraits, statues crying tears of blood, and various enormous body parts appearing in the castle.
Why? It appears that Manfred’s grandfather took the castle unlawfully, and the legend is that his family may hold it until its real owner grows too large to inhabit it. Hence, the enormous body parts.
This novel exhibits all the hallmarks of the subsequent gothic novels, many of which aren’t that palatable to modern readers—overblown speeches, submissive and virtuous women (Manfred’s wife even being so submissive as to agree to her own divorce), a nearly insane villain in Manfred, a hero in disguise, a lot of fainting, and supernatural events.