Category Archives: Horace Walpole

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