Critical Analysis of a Passage from Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto

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Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, is acknowledged by many as the first gothic novel. It was the first of it’s kind and many of the conventions used by Walpole, which put it in a literary genre of it’s own, were continued by authors such as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. Many of these defining characteristics can be seen within the very first few pages of the text and for the purposes of this essay, to identify some of these conventions used and the relevance of this text to modernity I shall focus this analysis on the passage between pages twenty-four and twenty-six from the Oxford World’s Classics edition.

The gothic novel emerged during the late eighteenth century and the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, which emphasised rationality and reason, and the gothic, in many ways, acts in a way of shadowing the progress of modernity and as an opposition to modern enlightenment ideas with its lawless rebellion against unity and order. Rational therefore, is not a word which one would associate with the Gothic. One of the best examples of this would be the presence of super natural beings, spectres and visions, which become very prominent in early gothic novels and began with Walpole. In these three pages alone, we see many strange phenomena occurring: the moving helmet that had previously caused the death of Conrad, a sighing ancestral portrait and a ghostly apparition. Extremely irrational and unbelievable I’m sure you’ll agree, and especially in such a short space of time, one supernatural event is barely over before another begins. The main purposes of these supernatural forces are to enhance the imagination and create fear, both within the characters and within the readers. Fear is one of the oldest and most powerful of emotions and one that has a strong presence in all gothic novels. It could be described as the fuel of all gothic novels and provides the illicit thrills for the reader, when they come down to the level of the characters and allow themselves to...
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