J K Rowling would like the moving pictures.
Publisher: N/A (I read Project Gutenberg’s edition)
First Published: 1764
Date Reviewed: 1st September 2015
In the Medieval period Manfred, Prince of Otranto, arranges a marriage between his sickly son, Conrad, and the lady Isabella. On the day, Conrad is killed by a giant helmet, leaving Manfred with no heir, and an heir he must have if his line is to continue ruling and the prophecy that Otranto be returned to its rightful owner overruled. But Manfred’s new plan of marrying Isabella himself is to be upset by the arrival of a peasant and a ghost or two.
The Castle Of Otranto is a novella in the style of Shakespeare. It’s prose but high in drama; its value lies mostly in its Shakespearian context.
This is because there’s really not much to The Castle Of Otranto and albeit that this was the first gothic book ever written, it pales in comparison to most others. There are paranormal elements, not scary enough likely even for readers of the time, and these elements are never explained, they just happen and Walpole finishes his tale without explaining the whys and hows. The book is incredibly dramatic, there are info-dumps, and the story is minor. Not all that much happens, at least in the context of what we’d call action today, or even what Austen would call action, and a lot of the dialogue is composed of rambling.
What does work, then, is the imitation of Shakespeare. The Castle Of Otranto is to all intents and purposes a prose version of a Shakespeare play if Shakespeare had written about a man called Manfred who wants to keep his castle. The style is very Elizabethan – the first edition had Walpole pretending he was simply the translator of an old text – and the drama far more akin to Shakespeare than any fainting ladies of the Georgian period. The dialogue is full of thys and forsooths… actually it may not include a forsooth, but that word is a good one to use because I think everyone can imagine the period commonly associated with it.
The value of Walpole’s work lies in theatre – this book would make a great performance on the stage of the Globe. Otherwise, however, there is not much to be taken from it; I’d recommend it only to those with a prior interest who want to study drama and/or 1700s literature. There are veiled references to Henry VIII, there’s silliness, and there are many convenient relationships that have most certainly been planned. This book is contrived; it’s meant to be.
The Castle Of Otranto is fun but wearing. Read it if you love The Bard, pass on it otherwise.
September 7, 2015, 11:39 am
A novella done in the style of Shakespeare? Intrigued by this concept but I’m afraid that’s as far as it goes as I can’t see myself reading this any time soon. Great review, thank you.
September 8, 2015, 2:40 am
Hahahaha, I do love the Bard, but maybe not enough to read a book one could describe as “wearing”. Not a very inspiring adjective!
September 13, 2015, 8:18 pm
I keep thinking this is the Ann Radcliff book mentioned in Northanger Abbey, but of course it isn’t and I’ve got confused. with Mysteries of Udolpho. This definitely sounds like a book you’d be pleased your read, but not so happy while reading.