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