Review – The Castle of Otranto
  • Posted:
  • October 20, 2012
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I took time away from the stack of ARCs to read a short classic, The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole. Otranto is the original Gothic story… as in the first… as in a template for all others to come afterwards. As a fan of the genre I thought I should sneak the origin point in. And, as a fan of the genre, I was bored with this book. It was a “meh” read.

Many Gothic themes pervade this slight volume – the tense, creepy mood and woman fleeing from a man spring immediately to mind. In Otranto Manfred, lord of a kingdom, is attending the wedding of his son, Conrad, to Isabella. Shortly before the wedding Conrad is crushed to death by a falling, over large helmet. Manfred, suddenly afraid for his familial line, becomes obsessed with fathering another child, so much so that he throws over his wife of many years for Isabella. The remainder of the novel follows his pursuit of Isabella and all of the subsequent preventative hindrances that befall him.

Well, where to start… This novel is very dated in its gender equality. That’s being kind, it’s sexist, straight up. Seeing as how it was written in 1764 that is not entirely surprising. All of the female characters are wooden archtypes of the day. The men aren’t much better, but at least they were crafted with slightly more depth. More or less this is one long attempted rape that gets foiled at several turns. There’s no nicer way to put it than that. It’s rape fetishism.

Manfred was a trip. I was so reminded of what I have read about Henry the eight while reading him. The obsessive need to procreate coupled with the dominant male ego was just too much for me. I felt like I was watching the silent films where the man chases after the screaming heroine in a black cape with his claws raised in the air. The drama was just too much in this book. I’m a fan of the over-the-top-ness of this genre but this took the cake. I can see why it shaped centuries of novels to follow that I adore (Frankenstein, Dracula, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, etc. etc.). However, that doesn’t mean I am a fan. It’s very dated. And not very good. The end.

2 out of 5 stars.

– BP

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