Review: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

When I first opened this book I was confronted by page after page of almost continuous text with virtually no paragraph breaks and no quotation marks or any way of marking when one person stops speaking and the next begins. This made it difficult to follow the dialogue but otherwise the story is easy enough to understand considering it was published in 1764.

Manfred, the Prince of Otranto, has arranged a marriage between his fifteen year old son Conrad and the princess Isabella. However, on the day of the wedding Conrad is found crushed to death in the courtyard beneath an enormous black feathered helmet which appears to have fallen from the sky. As his son is obviously now in no position to go ahead with the wedding, Manfred decides to marry Isabella himself, but Isabella has other ideas…cue a never-ending chain of misunderstandings, coincidences and mayhem.

The Castle of Otranto is historically important because it was the first gothic novel – complete with haunted castles, underground tunnels, damsels in distress, knights, ghosts and paintings that move – but don’t expect a piece of great literature. In places the plot is so ridiculous and the writing so melodramatic that it’s actually hilarious.

The Castle of Otranto is funny and entertaining – and very short – but I can’t imagine ever wanting to read it again. For a better introduction to gothic fiction I would recommend The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, which is a longer book but much better written.

Genre: Gothic Fiction/Pages: 176/Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics/Year: 1998 – originally published 1764/Source: My own copy bought new

7 thoughts on “Review: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

  1. Aarti says:

    I have never tried this one before but I did make a big push to read Mysteries of Udolpho some time ago. I got about halfway through, and the bookmark is still in the book, though there is no way I would remember what was going on. I may give it a go again later- but geez, those 19th century women had a lot of time on their hands!

  2. Helen says:

    I enjoyed The Mysteries of Udolpho, though I did find it difficult to get through all those pages of descriptions of scenery. The Castle of Otranto is a much quicker read.

  3. boofsbookshelf.com says:

    Ha ha, I love the sound of this book! I love all that 18th and 19th century melodrama, it’s fabulous! I am so going to check this book out :o)

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