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on 1 March 2017
This is a great book. It is a real romp. It shouldn't be taken too seriously as I'm sure Walpole was just having fun himself. I've taken one star off just because it can be a challenging read as conversations are written out in solid text which a modern audience is not used to. It is often difficult to discern who is saying something. But it has everything - a ghostly castle,secret passages, ghosts and goblins. It's great fun. The dramatic ending is great too.
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This review refers to the Oxford World's Classics edition, edited by WS Lewis, with a 26-page introduction and eight pages of endnotes by EJ Clery. There is a select bibliography and a chronology of the author, Horace Walpole. Importantly, the book includes both the first and second editions' title-pages and prefaces.

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.
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on 6 April 2017
Really good book, considering it is widely considered as the first ever gothic novel it is a masterpiece! The story is quite dark and dodgy but in being that, it sets the criteria for future gothic novels.
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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on 9 June 2017
Excellent service, product cannot ask for anything more.
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on 29 June 2015
Gift well recived
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on 17 November 2010
I enjoyed this quirky, outlandish, escapist, romantic tale of evil versus virtue, set in a Medieval castle, but I feel it would benefit from the input of a modern editor - not to change the text itself, but simply to make it easier to read. Could just be this edition (Pocket Penguin Classics), but there were no speech marks and no paragraph breaks either - which made it quite hard to follow!

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!
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on 8 May 2011
The Castle of Otranto is not ideal for those who enjoy popular fiction as the prose and age of the novel can be a bit of a challenge.

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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on 1 February 2012
The Castle of Otranto (1764) is the first Gothic Novel and it created a wave of interest in all things Gothic. With Otranto, Horace Walpole (1717-1797), establishes a fascinating incarnation of the Gothic ghost story. Conrad, Lord Otranto, is the only son of Manfred, and on his wedding day, Conrad is found crushed to death in the castle courtyard, by a giant helmet. Manfred decides to banish his wife to a convent and marry his son's intended bride, princess Isabella, in his pursuit of a male heir.
The Castle of Otranto with its comic moments, supernatural themes and plot devices; its story lines involving mistaken identity, deception, romance and even incest became a very influential literary classic and is highly recommended - sensational!
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on 6 January 2011
I had read 'The Castle of Otranto' years ago but recently, as part of an effort on my side to (re)read all major works in the history of the English novel, I decided to include this in the list and see what I thought of it now. To be honest, I felt a bit let down. One should of course consider that it was first published in 1765 and, both in terms of being horrified and in terms of what the novel as a genre is capable of, we have come a very long way indeed and have become used to quite a different level of horror. I think not a single present-day reader will be horrified by 'The Castle of Otranto'. The problem, at least in my case, was quite simply that I could not, or at least less than when I first read it, get into the story enough to grant the proverbial suspension of disbelief.

This is not to say I am sorry having reread 'The Castle of Otranto' and feel that it is a waste of time. On the contrary, the fascinating aspect of it was this time rather the insight it clearly gives in the literary standards and expectations in those early days of the English novel, and as such it is and will always remain a must-read of course, which has heavily influenced scores of other (later) authors. So if you're an avid student/lover of the English novel I can heartily recommend it, if you're searching a good horror story I would go elsewhere.
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on 25 September 2011
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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