The Castle of Otranto – a Gothic Novel

The Castle of Otranto – A Gothic Novel Picture of the Title Page of the Second Edition A Dossier by Luisa Hiller, Johannes Klein, Benjamin Priebst, and Claudia Haack Table of Contents: 1. Introduction – The Gothic Novel 2. Horace Walpole 2. 1. The Life of Horace Walpole 2. 2. The Works of Horace Walpole 3. “The Castle of Otranto – A Gothic Novel“ 3. 1. Introduction 3. 2. Index of Characters 3. 3. Summary of the Plot 3. 4. The Characters’ Appearance 3. 5. The Character Constellation 3. 6. Gothic Elements in The Castle of Otranto . Bibliography 1. Introduction – The Gothic Novel In the first half of the 18th century the word “Gothic” was mainly related to the Nordic invaders, the Goths, who were disliked because of their barbarous behaviour and their brutal invasion. Therefore “gothic” had a pejorative connotation, which, nevertheless, changed in the middle of the 18th century into a word being related to supernatural and fantastic events. The first gothic novel appeared in 1764, when Horace Walpole? s “The Castle of Otranto” was published.
From this time on to approximately 1820 there was an explosion of gothic writings, which almost turned into addiction, especially for the female readership, who were craving for popular entertainment. This form of writing dominated British literature during this period and can be described as a hybrid between novel and romance, also encompassing drama and poetry. Though the gothic novel had many critics, it became unexpectedly successful due to the fact that it signified morality, beauty, a lack of reason and feudal beliefs which formed, at that time, a sharp contrast to the actual values of the Age of Enlightenment.
Consequently, the gothic novel functioned as a mirror of 18th century conventions and values. The emergence of this new development in literature implied the assumption that there was a need for sacred and transcendent forces due to the denial of the existence of supernatural forces by the modern enlightened society. So the gothic novel provoked a rebellion against the predominant ideal of order and unity, which caused a lot of annoyance and was a socially subversive force for many critics. Finally, the author? intention was to evoke fear and terror, but also grandeur, and to make people be reverential. Writers of that period wanted, moreover, to wind up the reader? s feelings. This aim could be achieved by the usage of particular elements, which appeared in almost every gothic novel. Some of these elements are mentioned below. >setting The action usually takes place in some ruined castle or abbey in a remote and dark time, like the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the buildings are in many cases full of crypts, catacombs, dungeons, trap doors and secret underground passages. atmosphere The atmosphere of the whole story seems threatening and mysterious due to some inexplicable events as ancient prophecies and curses coming true, visions or other supernatural occurrences which sometimes can be elucidated. There are, furthermore, extreme landscapes as thick forests and rugged mountains often containing caves. Additionally a terrifying atmosphere is created by the apparent gloom, shadows, moonlight or a flickering candle. >emotions A gothic novel always contains powerful emotions like pride, anger, sadness, surprise, and especially, terror.

Romantic elements like love and its often tragical implications (uncertainty of reciprocation, rival lovers, … ) are also part of many gothic novels. Characteristics for the partly overwrought emotions are crying and melodramatic speeches, as well as panic and fainting. >distressed women Frequently women are oppressed and threatened, either by male relatives or other powerful men, for instance kings or lords which are mostly tyrannical. These women are often the main characters, demanded to do something unbearable as marrying someone they do not love.
After the outstanding success of the gothic novel in the 1790? s, it began to fade in 1820. One reason for this was the frequent imitation, so that people became bored and the gothic novels stereotypes. Moreover, critics have been slow to accept the gothic novel as a valuable genre, for which reason it has almost vanished from European literature. The most important representatives: Horace Walpole>The Castle of Otranto (1764) Ann Radcliffe>The Italian; or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797) Mary Shelley>Frankenstein (1818) Charles Maturin>Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) 2.
Horace Walpole 2. 1. The Life of Horace Walpole Horace Walpole was born on September 24 in London, the forth son of later Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Rumour has it that the eight-year-old boy met Alexander Pope during a summer holiday spent at Cambridge House, Twickenham, in 1725. Stages of his education include such famous names as Eton (1727-1734) and King? s College, Cambridge (1735-39). The following two years of his life were spent on the obligatory “Grand Tour”. Walpole was accompanied by his schoolfriend, the poet Thomas Gray, and the two of them toured France and Italy.
When he returned to England in 1741, Walpole could immediately take up office, having been elected Member of Parliament for the family borough Callington in Cornwell while he was still abroad. For the following quarter of a century Walpole served as an MP in varying constituencies, before he finally retired in 1767. 1747 marked the beginning of a lifelong “obsession”. In this year, Walpole took up residence at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, and began transforming his domicile into “the most celebrated Gothic House in England”.
In 1757, a private printing press was set up at Strawberry Hill and Walpole brought out some of his own works by means of it. After the death of his nephew in 1791, Horace Walpole succeeded him as fourth Earl of Orford. He died five years later, on March 2, 1797. 2. 2. The Works of Horace Walpole –1747First book, “Aedes Walpolianae”, a description of the paintings at Houghton (the family seat in Norfolk), published –1751Walpole starts writing his “Memoirs”, a process continuing until 1791 –1758“Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors”, 2 vols. 1762“Anecdotes of Painting in England”, 5 vols. (-1780) –1764December 24, “The Castle of Otranto” published –1768“The Mysterious Mother” (a tragedy) “Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third” Apart from the above-listed works, Walpole is known for his extensive correspondence. 4000 of his letters have been preserved. 3. “The Castle of Otranto – A Gothic Novel” 3. 1. Introduction On December 24, 1764, the English readership was presented with “The Castle of Otranto“, a novel which gave rise to a new literary genre: the Gothic Novel.
Its author – Horace Walpole – obviously had not reckoned with the immediate success of his work. Why else would he have published the first edition of it anonymously? In fact, Walpole concealed his authorship by a rather complex story of the origin and discovery of “The Castle of Otranto“. His anxiety about the reception of his novel was basically founded on the “novelty of the attempt“ (Otranto 7). Two aspects shall be mentioned to explain what he meant. Firstly, one of Wal-pole? s major intentions in writing the book was “[… to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern“ (Otranto 7), the former distinguished by imagination and improbability, the latter by a more realistic presentation of life (Walpole himself used the term “nature“ rather than “realistic“). His object was to reconcile the two different approaches by showing people acting in a natural way while being exposed to the most unnatural situations. The second motive that originally prevented Walpole from revealing his authorship were the super-natural elements contained in the story; ironically enough the very reason for its later fame.
But by the time of its publication Walpole could not be sure that the mysterious events around “The Castle of Otranto“ would meet with the approval of mid-18th century readers. After all, this was the Age of Enlightenment, the period of “cold reason“ (Letter to Mme du Deffand, 13 March 1767, quoted from Otranto x) in which there was no place for ghosts, spectres, visions, prophecies and the like supernatural phenomena. With his fears not being confirmed and the positive reception of the novel, Walpole finally revealed his authorship with the appearance of the second edition in April 1765.
The second edition brought another innovation: the subtitle “A Gothic Novel“ was added to the book, thereby providing the term for a whole literary branch which became very popular with readers in the following decades. Beside the above-mentioned supernatural elements which can be applied to any Gothic story there are several elements which are peculiar to “The Castle of Otranto“. One of them can be perceived whenever servants and aristocratic characters meet.
In writing these scenes Walpole was inspired by and imitated another prominent figure of English literary history, and he freely admits: “That great master of nature, Shakespeare, was the model I copied“ (Otranto 8). And in another passage from the second edition Walpole describes the function of the domestics in the following way: “The simplicity of their behaviour, almost tending to excite smiles, [… ] appeared to me not only not improper, but was marked designedly in that manner. My rule was nature. [… In my humble opinion, the contrast between the sublime of the one [the noble characters] and the naivete of the other, sets the pathetic of the former in a stronger light“ (Otranto 8). Finally, the last aspect to be mentioned is one that is not missing from any description of Walpole? s life and works. At the end of the preface to the first edition Walpole writes: I will detain the reader not longer than to make one short remark. Though the machine- ry is invention, and the names of the actors imaginary, I cannot but believe that the groundwork of the story is founded on truth.
The scene is undoubtedly laid in some real castle. The author seems frequently, without design, to describe particular parts. “The chamber“, says he, “on the right hand: the door on the left hand; the distance from the chapel to Conrad? s apartment“: these and other passages are strong presumptions that the author had some certain building in his eye (Otranto 5-6). This extract could well be seen as a proof for Walpole? s sense of humour. In fact, the author – Walpole himself – did have a certain building in mind, namely his own domicile, Strawberry Hill. . 2. Index of Characters Manfred, Prince of Otranto•Hippolita, Princess of Otranto Conrad, their son and heir•Matilda, their daughter Isabella, engaged to Conrad, daughter of >•Frederic, Marquis of Vicenza Bianca, the princesses’ chambermaid •Jaquez and Diego, the prince’s servants Theodore (heir to Alfonso the Good,)son of>•Jerome (Count of Falconara,) friar of the church of St. NicholasTwo knights, Frederic? s escort•A herald A giant knight, Ghost of Alfonso the Good•A phantom, ghost of a wise hermit Manfred? s servants, soldiers, people of the nearby village 3. 3.
Summary of the Plot The story takes place in the old castle of Otranto, south Italy, in the Late Middle Ages. Because of an inscrutable prophecy, Manfred, Lord of Otranto, fears the downfall of his dynasty. After his only son Conrad’s sudden and mysterious death on his wedding day, Manfred intends to merry Conrad’s fiancee Isabella, which results in her flight from the castle. Theodore, a suspicious stranger, seems to be involved in her escape. Later, Frederic, Father of Isabella, who was reckoned to be lost in the last crusade, arrives to claim the authority over the Castle.
He pretends to be the successor of Alfonso, the former legitimate Lord of Otranto, who died during the crusade. By offering his beautiful daughter Matilda to the challenger, Manfred tries to come to an arrangement with Frederic. Frederic should merry Matilda and Manfred should become husband to Isabella. Manfred’s wife Hippolita does not offer much resistance. However, because of increasing cryptic occurrences that remind Frederic of a prophecy he had been told, he rejects Manfred’s offer. Meanwhile, Manfred is becoming more and more jealous of Theodore, suspecting him to be Isabella? lover. His jealousy leads to the sad climax of the drama: Manfred, taking his daughter for Isabella, kills her accidentally when he discovers her secretly meeting Theodore. Manfred slays his only heir. Completing the prophecy, the giant ghost of Alfonso appears and Manfred resigns his dominion. Theodore? s identity as the true heir of Alfonso is revealed and he becomes the legitimate Lord of Otranto. 3. 4. The Characters? Appearance Throughout the Chapters (Only characters significant to the plot have been indexed. ) Man-fredHippo- litaCon- radMatil- aIsabel- laTheo- doreJeromeFrede-ricBian- caJaquez + DiegoGiantPhan- tom 1. XXXXXX—XX- 2. XX-X- XX-X— 3. X–XXXXX—- 4. XX-XXXXX—- 5. XX-XXXXXX-XX 3. 5. The Character Constellation 3. 6. Hippolita Frederic Jerome Manfred Isabella Theodore Matilda Bianca Manfred + Hippolitamarried; he wants to divorce her; she obeys him in everything (exception: authority of the church) Manfred + JeromeM. respects the friar, but suspects and scorns the man; J. exercises the authority of his position and his knowledge of the prophecy Manfred + TheodoreM. suspicion, anger, jealousy, aversion, but respect; T. > obedience, ‘superiority of manners’ Manfred + Frederic business-like relationship, trying to come to an arrangement Manfred + IsabellaM. > she is the object of his desire I. > repulsiveness, fear Isabella + Fredericfather and daughter; I. > dutiful child; F. > considers ‘exchanging’ her for Matilda Isabella + TheodoreT. > a friend in need, chivalrous helper I. > thankful for the assistance of the ‘peasant’ T. , later falls in love with the ‘ true heir’ T.
Isabella + Matildamutual affection and confidence (like sisters); for some time rivals (> Theodore) Matilda + Theodoretragic lovestory Jerome + Theodorefather and son; J. > fatherly love and concern; T. > less emotional, retains some distance Jerome + Hippolitathe friar as confidant and advisor; H. > devoted and obedient Christian Matilda + Biancamistress and maid-servant 3. 6. Gothic Elements in “The Castle of Otranto“ Not before the second edition did Horace Walpole admit that he himself wrote the book, which in its initial edition had the title: The Castle of Otranto, A Story.
Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto (Otranto 1). But it was not before the work had been such a success that he admitted that “The Castle of Otranto” was in fact a work of fiction and not, as he had claimed in the preface of the first edition, which was published in 1764, “[… ]found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England” (First Edition 3) and had only been translated.
To further strengthen the point that the original story was based on reality, he adds that “Though the machinery is invention, and the names of the actors imaginary, I cannot but believe that the groundwork of the story is founded on truth” (First Preface 5) and proves his conviction by giving the reader examples of where he thinks that the original author must have unconsciously been referring to a specific place: “ ‘The chamber,’ says he, ‘on the right hand; the door on the left hand; the distance from the chapel to Conrad’s apartment’ [… ”(Second Preface 6). Through the preface to the first edition Horace Walpole sets the setting and describes the scene to have happened “[… ] between 1095, the era of the first crusade, and 1243, the date of the last, or not long afterwards” (First Preface 3). Main themes of a gothic novel include ancient prophecies that are almost forgotten. In this case there are two which are both linked to the true heir of Alfonso and thus the rightful lord of Otranto.
The reader hears the first one already in the second paragraph where it says, “[t]hat the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it” (Otranto 15). The next one is more in the sense of a classical prophecy: “Where? er a casque that suits this sword is found, [w]ith perils is thy daughtercompass’d round: Alfonso? s blood alone can save the maid, [a]nd quiet a long-restless prince’s shade” (Otranto79).
It is in rhyme and not, as the first one, passed on oraly, but written on a giant sabre which was found far far away from the castle of Otranto. Another defining characteristic of a gothic novel are inexplicable sounds: “At that instant the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast” (Otranto 23). Furthermore, there are visions of things that can not possibly exist: “[I]t is a giant, I believe; he is all clad in armour, for I saw his foot and part of his leg, and they are as large as the helmet below in the court” (Otranto 33).
And, most importantly, the one that sets the whole story in motion: “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 proportionable quantity of black feathers” (Otranto 17). Further characteristics include women in distress. Since Hippolita, Manfred’s lawfully wedded wife, can not concieve any more children, and Conrad has been squashed by the gigantic helmet, Manfred needs a male heir and thus decides to divorce Hippolita and to marry Isabella:“Isabella, since I cannot give you my son, I offer you myself (Otranto 23).
In the end, every hint that has been given throughout the story is packed together in a great vision for all the protagonists to see: A clap of thunder at that instant shook the castle to its foundations; the earth rocked and the clank of more than mortal armours was heard behind. [… ] The moment Theo- dore appeared, the walls of the castle behind Manfred were thrown down with a migh- ty force, and form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude, appeared in the centre of the ruins. Behold in Theodore, the true heir of Alfonso! “ said the vision: and having pronounced those words, accompanied by a clap of thunder, it ascended solemnly to- wards heaven, where the clouds parting asunder, he form of saint Nicholas was seen; and receiving Alfonso? s shade, they were soon wrapt from mortal eyes in a blaze of glory. The beholders fell prostrate on their faces, acknowledging the divine will (Otran- to 108). 4. Bibliography Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. 1764. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.

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