Book: Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto

Believe me when I say that I picked this book up simply because the title contained the word “Gothic”. I knew nothing about gothic fiction,  and even now I cannot say that I know a lot about the genre, but there is a greater understanding and appreciation after reading this compilation. The book contains three novels and in this review I look at the first story – The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.

It’s what many people consider a classic in gothic literature, or the first actual gothic novel for that matter. It combines elements of both romance and horror. It begins on the wedding day of Conrad and Isabella. However disaster strikes immediately as Conrad is crushed by a giant helmet that dropped from the sky. What ensues is a plot of evil by Manfred (Conrad’s father) to save his bloodline. Add the virtuous Hippolita (Manfred’s wife) and Matilda ( Manfred’s daughter) as well as an unnamed peasant who is accused of witchcraft causing the death of the groom and the story begins!

The castle of otranto

The story itself was hard to read because of the language that was used. It was however really interesting. There was always something happening in the story, making it difficult to put down. The characters were portrayed well and the plot had many a twist and turn to keep readers guessing as to the fate of the characters.

It started out of really weird, I mean come one, a giant piece of armour falls from the sky and kills the groom? Weird. Super weird. Yet, as the story progressed, it became less weird and more of a serious family drama. There were plots afoot and conspiracies in every corner. There were secret identities galore and the occasional supernatural happenings became more of an omen as to what was to come. At some points it didn’t feel like the occult and more fantastical moments fit into the story. Perhaps this stems from the novel being the first of its kind.

In creating a new genre, I think that this novel is pretty unique. It’s not perfect. Later authors in this genre have done better at it. Yet, it has inspired the gothic genre, and for that I think it deserves some credit.

I sorely wish I took up literature in university. I think that there’s a wealth of information in books and of books that I’m missing out on. There’s so much more that could be said of this novel and here I find myself at a loss of words. I guess, all I can really say is that I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to everyone to at least have a taste of what gothic fiction is like.

8 Responses to “Book: Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto”
  1. Genki Jason says:

    A lot of early gothic novels read a lot like this and it is sometimes hard to warm up to them if you keep modern gothic standards in your mind. As you suggest, you have to be aware of the time they were written and the themes that they touch upon.

    • everworld says:

      Hm. what would you consider modern gothic novels? I know weird fiction like that of Lovecraft is considered gothic fiction, but I must admit it doesn’t feel the same. In my mind, gothic fiction has to be set in medieval times. I’m set in my strange ways.

      • Genki Jason says:

        I see what you mean about the medieval and gothic but gothic themes can pop up anywhere. Angela Carter’s novels can be considered modern gothic.

        In terms of classic gothic, I’ve read all sorts of things like The Monk and The Italian.

      • everworld says:

        It would seem I need to read MORE! I have never read anything my Angela Carter, but that is poised to change in the coming year.

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. The only traditional Gothic novel I’ve read is Dracula–unless Alexander Dumas’ A Thousand and One Ghosts counts. Might check this book out after I finish Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    • everworld says:

      I’m sure Dracula is a great read and is definitely a book I’m looking for after reading Frankenstein. Also, you have reminded that I need to read more Alexander Dumas. I am smitten with his books.

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