Wednesday, 15 March 2000

Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (1765)

Edition: Penguin, 1972
Review number: 452

Until you read some Gothic novels, it may seem strange that they are not more popular today, as the origins of the modern horror genre and parts of science fiction and fantasy. Yet the only one which has consistently survived is Frankenstein, and it could certainly be argued that it is not really a Gothic novel. As popular literature, the Gothic novel reflected the tastes of the time, tastes which are not the same as ours today. (More recent popular writers, of whom Marie Corelli is perhaps the most obvious example, have disappeared from view for similar reasons.)

The Castle of Otranto is one of the first Gothic novels, formative of the genre. It is intended to read as though it were a medieval chronicle, though Walpole's idea of a medieval chronicle is as inauthentic as Walter Scott's idea of medieval dialogue. The story is of the supernatural downfall of the usurping counts of Otranto, followed by the restoration of the true dynasty. The castle is full of hidden passages and dungeons, though we never get any real sense of its geography; its importance is to be a stage for improbably events, not to be realistic in any way.

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