The Castle of Otranto (Pocket Penguin Classics) Mass Market Paperback – 28 Jan 2010
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with each volume having an introduction by an acknowledged expert, and exhaustive notes, the World's Classics are surely the most desirable series and, all-round, the best value for money (Oxford Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Horace Walpole (1717-97), 4th Earl of Orford, was the son of the Whig Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. In 1747 he moved to Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, which he transformed into his "little Gothic castle". He was at the centre of literary and political society and an arbiter of taste. He is remembered for his witty letters to a wide circle of friends.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
Not only that, there was no foreword, no footnotes, no interpretation at all. I think a little editorial gloss would have helped to put the story in context and pick up on the nuances in the text. This lack of any explanation makes me wary of buying the other books in the series, despite the fact that I'm interested in reading quite a few of them! I will probably choose different editions if I do get these.
The story itself is worth reading, even if mostly from curiosity, as it conforms to many of the stereotypes of implausible romantic fiction! However, this is only from the point of view of modern hindsight: this was an innovative book when it was written. Again, a good introduction would have helped to highlight this.
In summary... a fun read, but probably best to get a different edition!
That said it is a must read for lovers of the Gothic novel, as it is the first ever written and published in England. It opened a door in English literature for writers like Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley and created the Gothic genre.
The Author, Horace Walpole was the son of an English Prime Minister and he wrote this novel and published it in his own publishing house (Strawberry Hill) under an assumed name. The novel was claimed to come from ancient writings and Walpole didn't admit to ownership of it until a much later edition. Why? Because the gothic novel didn't exist yet, only one other Gothic novel had ever been written before this one (in Germany, The Monk), so Walpole was unsure of the reaction this kind of novel would get in England. In taking this chance with his own reputation, Walpole created a new genre in literature, the gothic novel.
The novel follows Manfred and his family in the Castle of Otranto. When his son Conrad is killed on his wedding day (being crushed by a giant helmet) Manfred feels it is a sign that his lineage is doomed, so he decides to marry the beautiful Isabella (Conrad's intended bride) himself, and do away with his own wife.
It's a dark and interesting tale, delightfully shocking for the time period and provides a wonderful insight to the Gothic genre and its beginnings. There are also some great literary themes to watch out for, sex and gender being the most predominant. I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in Gothic literature, because it is where it all began.
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