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The Castle of Otranto A Gothic Story 3/e (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 9 Oct 2014
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About the Author
Nick Groom has published widely for both academic and popular readerships, with particular interest in questions of authenticity and the emergence of national and regional identity. His books include The Gothic (2012) for the Very Short Introductions series, The Union Jack: the Story of the British Flag (Atlantic, 2006), and The Seasons: an Elegy for the Passing of the Year (Atlantic, 2013).
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The first edition, "The Castle of Otranto: A Story, translated by William Marshal", was published in December 1764 (but marked 1765 on the title-page). It's preface tried - and succeeded for awhile - to give the impression that the tale had been "found in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England" and had been "printed at Naples ... in the year 1529. ... The style is the purest Italian."
The style was instead the purest Walpole and he quickly confessed; so that in the rapidly-issued second edition of 1765 (the book was an immediate hit), the revised preface became, as EJ Clery makes clear, "a manifesto for a new type of writing", and the title-page was amended to "The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story".
The inclusion of the adjective into the story's title is fundamental to the book's reputation as being the well-spring of much (all?) that followed in subsequent western literature that effected to underscore its credentials with a Gothic - or Gothick - motif. One could argue that that includes 90% of western literature (as much Thomas Pynchon as Stephen King), but this is going too far; for as Walpole himself makes plain in his second preface, his work was an attempt to marry imagination with nature, fantasy with reality, and that he had progenitors in the essay: "That great master of nature, Shakespeare, was the model I copied."
The story itself - a tale of lordly tyranny, supernatural horror, and family feuding that would have interested Shakespeare himself in its dramatic possibilities - is told over five chapters, barely one hundred pages in total, and so can be read in a few hours. As the excellent introduction relates, Walpole himself thought the story a piece of whimsy, and did not attempt to savagely repudiate the criticisms raised about both the style of writing and about the narrative itself. He was aware of the novella's power, however, in creating a new species of romance.
The work today is as much read for its historic relevance than for its terror and sublime effects, but both of these aspects recommend it.
So why should you read it? Apart from something a little bit different and quick to read, this is also one of the landmarks of literature. Make no mistake about it, the gothic genre was to spawn most of what is popular today. Read, admired and influencing many others little did anyone know how the genre would alter and change over the next century. This would originally spawn the terror and horror novels, and then onto the sensation fiction, so popular in the 19th Century (and still read by a lot of us today), and thus evolved once more into the popular crime novels (except detective fiction, which had a different forerunner) and thrillers of today.
If you want something fast paced, action packed, and totally crazy, then read this tale.
Of course, it has dated and many of the elements will fell cliche to modern readers - that's because it's been copied so many times since.
Expect neat diaglogue and a linear plot. However, also expect creepy castles, trap doors, awful parents and doomed love. All the elements are there and this is worth reading as it seems to be the seed-bed for much of the horror we know today.
Ahead of it's time when it was written, this is now more an interest piece for readers. It can be tiresome to read and of course the shocks have lost much of their sting for modern readers.
But, still a gothic masterpiece and any true horror fan must visit this along with Dracula and Frankenstein.
If you're interested in gothic novels I would strongly recommend this one because Walpole is the father of all gothic and it is the book that started it all.
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