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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comic but not really scary, 25 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Castle of Otranto (Kindle Edition)
I wanted to read a gothic novel to help me better understand what Jane Austen is satirizing in Northanger Abbey. I picked The Castle of Otranto purely because it was the shortest.

The book (published in 1764) starts with an introduction from Horace Walpole explaining that this is an English translation he has made of an Italian manuscript dating from 1529; however the introduction makes clear that it's possible that the original work was in fact written much earlier. Walpole also states his belief that the story he has translated is based on truth and events that must have really taken place

In fact, none of this was true; it was written in English by Horace Walpole in the 18th century, but at the time it was considered much more worthwhile to read a true story than a fictional one. Interestingly the wikipedia article on the book seems to indicate that the work was critically quite well received until Walpole 'fessed up and admitted he'd made up the whole thing when all the critics promptly decided that it was worthless fluff.

Once you're past the introduction this gothic tale kicks off with someone being crushed to death by a giant helmet:

"he beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionate quantity of black feathers"

Right.

All the other gothic staples are included of course; innocent virgins, noble knights, princes in disguise, incest, duels, gloomy castles and ghosts.

It was difficult for me to take this book as seriously as I assume the original 18th century readers took it. Most of the scenes which are presumably supposed to be scary seem ridiculous to a modern reader (death by giant helmet being the prime example). There are also a lot of scenes which I think may have been intended to be comic as the introduction notes that 'some persons may perhaps think the characters of the domestics too little serious for the general cast of the story'; there were some wonderful scenes very reminiscent of Shakespeare where the domestics were constantly interrupting each other or wandering from the point to the infuriation of their lords and ladies.

Ultimately, this was a short, enjoyable if somewhat strange read. Reading the free kindle version I definitely felt the lack of any explanatory notes to help me put this work in context but I think it was worth reading even so as it's given me a better understanding of Northanger Abbey.
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Location: Tring, Herts

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