The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole

The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole

Well, now I know why the Victorians looked down on Gothic fiction so.

 

The Castle of Otranto is a frankly bizarre tale from 1764 about Manfred, prince of Otranto, whose son Conrad is crushed on his wedding-night by - get this - a massive, mysterious helmet. This sparks a crisis in the castle as Manfred sets his sights on his son's bride-to-be, accuses a handsome peasant boy of murder and has a run-in with neighbouring Prince Frederic, and all the while the terrified servants report sightings of giants and miracles.

 

It reads like a cross between The Princess Bride without the funny parts and Stephen King at his worst.

 

I accept that it's not entirely fair to criticise Walpole for unoriginality on the grounds that The Castle of Otranto was the first of the Gothic novels, and perhaps therefore the first to use some of the more...obvious tropes here (even though the prince-in-disguise motif has been around literally for centuries - see the 13th-century poem Havelok the Dane for a particularly good one), but the fact is that it's all here, everything that is hackneyed about Gothic fiction, and there's so much of it. There are secrets and plots around every corner, people falling madly and inadvisedly in love all over the place, and some really surreal supernatural stuff going on that never gets explained. Frankly, it's exhausting, and claustrophobic, and all that Gothicness spills over into your brain somehow so that every small occurence in your real life immediately seems twice as melodramatic as it actually is.

 

I really, really need some Asimov right now.