The Castle of Otranto

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Title: The Castle of Otranto
Author: Horace Walpole
Year: 1764
First Gothic novel: horror, romance, fiction, fear.
Motto of the book: Fathers’ sins are hereditary.

Gothic novel - an English genre of fiction popular in the 18th to early 19th centuries, characterized by an atmosphere of mystery and horror and having a pseudo-medieval setting. (shocking people, gloomy, dark, depressing, also mental fog, different symbols, voices, plot based on some crime). The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole, is generally viewed as the first Gothic novel. Its first edition, published in 1764, claimed to be a translation of a work printed in Naples in 1529 and newly discovered in the library of ‘an ancient Catholic family in the north of England’. It tells the story of Manfred, the prince of Otranto, who is keen to secure the castle for his descendants in the face of a mysterious curse. The novel begins with the death of Manfred’s son, Conrad, who is crushed to death by an enormous helmet on the morning of his wedding to the beautiful princess Isabella. Faced with the extinction of his line, Manfred vows to divorce his wife and marry the terrified Isabella himself. The Castle of Otranto blends elements of realist fiction with the supernatural and fantastical, laying down many of the plot devices and character-types that would become typical of the Gothic: secret passages, clanging trapdoors, hidden identities and vulnerable heroines fleeing from men with evil intent. The novel was a success all over Europe, and the poet Thomas Gray commented in a letter to Walpole that it made ‘some of us cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o’nights.’ Walpole writes as if by formula. The standard Gothic devices and motifs are all in place, even in this brief excerpt: mysterious sounds, moonlight, a speaking portrait, the slamming of doors, castle vaults, an underground passage, blasts of wind, rusty...
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