The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

I am really glad that I started doing the ‘Do I Want To Read’ posts because you have been marvellous at letting me know some of your thoughts on some of the books I have been umming and ahhhing over, or as I like to call it ‘quibbling about’, of late. One such book was ‘The Castle of Otranto’ by Horace Walpole which I had never heard of before Novel Insights mentioned it and then many of you said was the original ‘gothic’ story.

If I was just to write a one word review for this novel then I think it would have to be ‘bonkers’.  As the book opens you meet Manfred, the owner of ‘The Castle of Otranto’, his wife Hippolita and their children Conrad and Matilda. Manfred is obsessed about keeping the family line alive yet Hippolita has only managed to give him a rather sickly heir in Conrad. As the book opens Manfred has arranged a marriage between a young girl Isabella and Conrad in order that a new male heir may be in the family as soon as possible. Only on the big day a giant helmet with plumed feathers falls from the sky and crushes Conrad. See I told you it was bonkers.

From this point on Manfred goes almost mad for fear of a prophecy ‘that the castle and the lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large from it’, no it doesn’t make sense but it’s a great plot device for Manfred to then decide he wants to marry Isabella and disown Hippolita whether they like it or not. Though Manfred didn’t expect the arrival of a stranger in the village that fate seems to throw in his path at every turn. A tale of secrets passages, mysteries, knights, giants, trysts and death then ensues with lashings of drama.

I liked it, I am not sure I could or would say it was my favourite book ever. I found the lack of space between the characters speech really confusing but that was how they wrote then so is me the reader that is at fault not the book or the author. I liked the craziness of it all and yet it worked against it for me. There’s too many unexplained random moments and turns of events that you suddenly have no idea where you are in the story or who is who. I will say you do carry on because it’s quite short and Walpole keeps the pace and momentum up. You do occasionally think ‘not another revelation’ but that’s all part of the fun. An interesting short read if you want something truly classic, its was originally published in 1764, fancy trying a truly Gothic book (I have heard that this being the first it suffers from then having been bettered later a little) and don’t mind a completely barmy plot that can go off at any tangent at any moment.

I liked this as a bizarre and enjoyable romp between some other books, I do think it may have suffered somewhat because I read it after ‘Skin Lane’ and ‘The Loved One’ which having been such wonderful, wonderful reads meant any book I read after would have to blow my bookish socks of. ‘The Castle of Otranto’ didn’t do that, it did give me a delightful escape into a world of fiction I hadn’t tried before but I definitely want to read much more gothic works in the future and I am very glad I started with what is deemed the first. It also took me out of my comfort zone which is always a bonus. Where should I go gothically next I wonder?


Filed under Horace Walpole, Oxford University Press, Review

28 responses to “The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

  1. ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen!

  2. Well I am glad you were able to like it — you right, it is bonkers, and I have always found it irritatingly so, for all the reasons you give here. Why not try Mrs Radcliffe (Udolpho? classic stuff) or Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (truly horrific, murder, incest etc), or William Beckford’s Vathek (oriental gothic) or indeed Frankenstein?

    • There seem to be a lot of recommendations for The Monk in these comments having skim read them before getting down to actually seriously responding to them all. I think its a port of call for Savidge reads very soon. Thanks for the recommendations Harriet.

  3. Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance of The Italian and The Monk by Matthew Lewis; I think you’ll appreciate Northanger Abbey once you have more of a sense of what she is pastiching (although it isn’t necessary to read The Mysteries of Udolpho itself).

    • I have The Italian and The Monk so I am very very excited about both of thsoe now. I think Northanger Abbey will be my way into Austen (oo-er that sounds rude) as I want to finally read some of her work – me and P&P were not the nest of friends though I have heard the first 50 pages are the worst.

  4. I’m appreciative of your honest review here, because this one was on my gothic list. I’m not against bonkers, but if there is better stuff out there, I’d rather head in that direction. I’m waiting for that ultimate list of great gothic reads! I love ’em!

    • I think its a good bonkers place to start with gothic novels if thats the way that you want to go. i wouldn’t say its bad, its not its a camp gothic romp, its just a bonkers one.

  5. Mysteries of Udolpho definitely, and agree with Northanger Abbey – great pastiche.

  6. I loved Northanger Abbey but have trouble getting through non-satiric gothic novels. I can see why they’d be fun, but most I’m just frustrated by them. I do love the name Horace Walpole though. I don’t know why, but it’s terribly satisfying to say, like something from Dickens or Trollope.

  7. I’ve had the Castle of Otranto on my tbr list since I did my disertation on gothic fiction.
    The Adventures of Caleb Williams by Godwin (Mary Shelley’s father) is a good read, political and gothic at the same time. And like all of your above commentors you should try Northanger Abbey, a great novella

    • Give it a whirl I think Katrina. You never now you might like it.

      Oooh I didnt know that Mary Shelley’s father was a writer (there will probably be collective gasps at that and my zero knowledge ha, ha) I always think I have read Frankenstein and I haven’t. I have read dracula though.

  8. Amy

    That does sound quite bonkers. I am intrigued though, I’ll have to check it out at some point.

  9. If you choose to read The Monk, let me know and I will read along as I have it sitting here.

  10. I love the word bonkers. Although I don’t love the sound of this book. As you know, I don’t read classic fiction (unless someone chooses it for book group), but in terms of modern/contemporary gothic fiction, I recommend Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend.

    • Bonkers is a great word though Dizee Rascal has a lot to answer for making it cool again, I like it in a retro way lol.

      I have read The Secret History, I haven’t read The Little Friend but hoorah its a recommendation that I actually own.

  11. I started this but found it so ridiculous I just couldn’t get into it. I think “bonkers” just about sums it up too. But I love Gothic literature so I’ll probably give it another try some day.

    • I can imagine its one of those books that intrigues or alienates with its bonkersness. I would definitley try it again if you havent gotten to the wonderfully melodramatic ending.

  12. I hadn’t heard of this book either until recently. I love your one-word summary! It made me think a little of Tom Jones – I haven’t read it yet but I’ve never been able to forget the mini-series they did. So you made it more appealing to me!

  13. I had to read this novel in a “Horror” class I took a few years ago. It’s a quick read but, you’re right, bonkers is definitely the word. If you’re up for an insanely effective Gothic novel, give The Monk a try. It is truly terrifying.

    -Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop 🙂

    • A horror class???? That sounds a bit of a treat and a half to me, I would love that!

      Lots of people have mentioned The Monk so I think that and Crime and Punishment (nothing to do with this post its just been mantioned recently) might be two of the next classics that I read, ooh am a bit excited.

  14. Pingback: Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto « Fyrefly's Book Blog

  15. Pingback: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell « Savidge Reads

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