Pretending to be the translation of an Italian story from the time of the crusades, The Castle of Otranto is a classic gothic horror story, complete with castle, a secret underground passage, a giant, long-lost noblemen, a holy friar, a curse and even a skeleton dressed as a monk. Starting ludicrously with Manfred's only son and heir being dashed to pieces by a giant helmet whilst crossing the castle courtyard on the way to his wedding, the tension mounts and the realistic passages, especially the wonderfully comic maid Bianca, so that by the end one forgives the dream-like element.
There were lots of Shakespearean overtones. The complicated love situations, pitting aristocratic arranged matches against love at first sight, together with the meddling 'holy' friar, reminded me of Romeo and Juliet while there are clear tributes to Hamlet and Macbeth. The clowning of the rustics is also a Shakespearean touch.
The silliest part of the story is the one in which best friends Matilda and Isabella both lust after Theodore, the clean cut young peasant. There is the chance of a significant amount of dramatic tension but Walpole throws it away after two pages when Isabella agrees to resign her hopes to her friend. Neither of them suggest that Theodore might want a say in the matter!
The whole idea of a suitor being good enough because he was born a nobleman even though he is a peasant (actually worse, he is a vagrant) is daft to our modern ears but they believed in it them. Blood will out. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is a story based on this premise.
It was interesting to read the long passages of dialogue in which the characters take turns to speak with no quotation marks and no separation of different voices into separate paragraphs. Bianca has brilliant dialogue; the others are too much like one another.
There is indeed very little characterisation. The noble princesses and Theodore and noble and pure and insipid. Bianca is brilliant. Father Jerome and Lord Frederic are weak. The only decent character, in a role tailor made for Alan Rickman, is the evil Manfred whose wicked designs are frustrated at every turn to his obvious impatience and frustration.
The sins of the father are visited upon the children.
It may be a silly story but it gave birth to a genre. December 2014; 115 pages
It is strange that this classic Gothic story, written in 1764, was based in Italy whilst The Monk (1796) was based in Spain. Gothic is supposed to be Germanic. In fact, both books are ways of bashing Roman Catholicism.
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57