The Castle of Otranto
name = The Castle of Otranto
image_caption = Title page from the third edition
language = English
release_date = 1764
"The Castle of Otranto" is a 1764
novelby Horace Walpole. It is generally regarded as the first gothic novel, and it was indeed the first novel to desribe itself by that term. "Castle" is thus generally credited with initiating the Gothic literary genre, one that would become extremely popular in the later 18th century and early 19th century. Thus, Walpole is arguably the forerunner of such authors as Charles Robert Maturin, Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, and Daphne du Maurier.
The initial 1764 edition was titled in full "The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto". This first edition purported to be a translation based on a manuscript printed at
Naplesin 1529 and recently rediscovered in the library of "an ancient Catholic family in the north of England." The Italian manuscript's story, it was claimed, derived from a story still older, dating back perhaps as far as the Crusades. This Italian manuscript, along with alleged author "Onuphrio Muralto," were Walpole's fictional creations, and "William Marshal" his pseudonym.
In the second and subsequent editions, Walpole acknowledges authorship of his work, writing: "The favorable manner in which this little piece has been received by the public, calls upon the author to explain the grounds on which he composed it" as "an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern. In the former all was imagination and improbability: in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with success..." There was some debate at the time about the function of literature, that is, whether or not works of fiction should be representative of life, or more purely imaginative (i.e. natural vs. romantic). The first edition was well received by some reviewers who understood the novel as belonging to
medievalfiction, "between 1095, the era of the first crusade, and 1243, the date of the last," as the first preface states; and some referred to Walpole as an "ingenious translator." Following Walpole's admission of authorship, however, many critics were loath to lavish much praise on the work and dismissed it as absurd, fluffy, romantic fiction.
In his 1924 edition of "The Castle of Otranto"
Montague Summersshowed that the life story of Manfred of Sicilyinspired some details of the plot. The real medieval castle of Otrantowas among Manfred's possessions.
"The Castle of Otranto" tells the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Shortly before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls on him from above. This inexplicable event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy that "That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it." Manfred, terrified that Conrad's death signals the beginning of the end for his line, resolves to avert destruction by marrying Isabella himself while divorcing his current wife Hippolita, who he feels has failed to bear him a proper heir. However, Manfred's attempts at a second union are disrupted by a series of supernatural events involving the appearance of numerous oversized artifacts and body-parts as well as the arrival of the true prince, Theodore of Falconara.
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