When Prince Manfred of Otranto loses his son in a strange and terrifying accident, he fears that an ancient prophecy has come to pass and his family will be stripped of its castle and lands before he can produce a new heir. Desperate to hold on to their power, he decides to divorce his wife and marry Isabella, his son’s betrothed. But Isabella escapes into the gloomy passages beneath the castle, and with the help of a young peasant named Theodore, finds sanctuary in a nearby monastery. Manfred threatens to kill Theodore unless Friar Jerome turns the girl over to him. Only a shocking twist of fate can save Isabella and ensure that the Castle of Otranto falls to its rightful heir.
An immediate sensation when it was published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto is widely considered to be the first Gothic novel. Rich with romance, spine-tingling suspense, and supernatural horror, the novel profoundly influenced the works of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Shelley.
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THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO
The Shorter Fiction
THE MYSTERIOUS MOTHER
THE COUNT OF NARBONNE
FUGITIVE PIECES IN VERSE AND PROSE
SOME ANECDOTES OF PAINTING IN ENGLAND
AN ACCOUNT OF THE GIANTS LATELY DISCOVERED
HISTORIC DOUBTS ON THE LIFE AND REIGN OF RICHARD III
ON MODERN GARDENING
A DESCRIPTION OF THE VILLA OF MR. HORACE WALPOLE
CATALOGUE OF ENGRAVERS
MEMOIRS OF THE REIGN OF KING GEORGE THE SECOND
MEMOIRS OF THE REIGN OF KING GEORGE THE THIRD
THE LETTERS OF HORACE WALPOLE
SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF HORACE WALPOLE, EARL OF ORFORD by Lord Dover
HORATIO WALPOLE by Adolphus William Ward
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One of the first and greatest of Gothic novels, this thrilling tale ranks among the most influential books in literary history. Serving as the model for plots, characterizations, settings, and tone for hundreds of successors, The Castle of Otranto abounds with colorful scenes, adventure, suspense, and inexplicable phenomena.
HORACE WALPOLE was the youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, the great statesman, who died Earl of Orford.
He was born in 1717, the year in which his father resigned office, remaining in opposition for almost three years before his return to a long tenure of power.
Horace Walpole was educated at Eton, where he formed a school friendship with Thomas Gray, who was but a few months older.
In 1739 Gray was travelling-companion with Walpole in France and Italy until they differed and parted; but the friendship was afterwards renewed, and remained firm to the end.
Horace Walpole went from Eton to King’s College, Cambridge, and entered Parliament in 1741, the year before his father’s final resignation and acceptance of an earldom.
His way of life was made easy to him.
As Usher of the Exchequer, Comptroller of the Pipe, and Clerk of the Estreats in the Exchequer, he received nearly two thousand a year for doing nothing, lived with his father, and amused himself.
Horace Walpole idled, and amused himself with the small life of the fashionable world to which he was proud of belonging, though he had a quick eye for its vanities.
He had social wit, and liked to put it to small uses.
But he was not an empty idler, and there were seasons when he could become a sharp judge of himself.
“I am sensible,” he wrote to his most intimate friend, “I am sensible of having more follies and weaknesses and fewer real good qualities than most men.
I sometimes reflect on this, though, I own, too seldom.
I always want to begin acting like a man, and a sensible one, which I think I might be if I would.” He had deep home affections, and, under many polite affectations, plenty of good sense.
Horace Walpole’s father died in 1745.
The eldest son, who succeeded to the earldom, died in 1751, and left a son, George, who was for a time insane, and lived until 1791.
As George left no child, the title and estates passed to Horace Walpole, then seventy-four years old, and the only uncle who survived.
Horace Walpole thus became Earl of Orford, during the last six years of his life.
As to the title, he said that he felt himself being called names in his old age.
He died unmarried, in the year 1797, at the age of eighty.
He had turned his house at Strawberry Hill, by the Thames, near Twickenham, into a Gothic villa—eighteenth-century Gothic—and amused himself by spending freely upon its adornment with such things as were then fashionable as objects of taste.
But he delighted also in his flowers and his trellises of roses, and the quiet Thames.
When confined by gout to his London house in Arlington Street, flowers from Strawberry Hill and a bird were necessary consolations.
He set up also at Strawberry Hill a private printing press, at which he printed his friend Gray’s poems, also in 1758 his own “Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England,” and five volumes of “Anecdotes of Painting in England,” between 1762 and 1771.
Horace Walpole produced The Castle of Otranto in 1765, at the mature age of forty-eight.
It was suggested by a dream from which he said he waked one morning, and of which “all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head like mine, filled with Gothic story), and that on the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour.
In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate.” So began the tale which professed to be translated by “William Marshal, gentleman, from the Italian of Onuphro Muralto, canon of the Church of St. Nicholas, at Otranto.” It was written in two months.
Walpole’s friend Gray reported to him that at Cambridge the book made “some of them cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o’ nights.” The Castle of Otranto was, in its own way, an early sign of the reaction towards romance in the latter part of the last century. This gives it interest.
The Castle of Otranto tells the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Shortly before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls on him from above. This inexplicable event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy "That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it". Manfred, terrified that Conrad's death signals the beginning of the end for his line, resolves to avert destruction by marrying Isabella himself while divorcing his current wife Hippolita, who he feels has failed to bear him a proper heir. However, as Manfred attempts to marry Isabella, she escapes to a church with the aid of a peasant named Theodore. Manfred orders Theodore's death while talking to the friar Jerome, who ensured Isabella's safety in the church. When Theodore removes his shirt to be killed, Jerome recognizes a marking below his shoulder and identifies Theodore as his own son. Jerome begs for his son's life, but Manfred says Jerome must either give up the princess or his son's life. They are interrupted by a trumpet and the entrance of knights from another kingdom who want to deliver Isabella. This leads the knights and Manfred to race to find Isabella. Theodore, having been locked in a tower by Manfred, is freed by Manfred's daughter Matilda. He races to the underground church and finds Isabella. He hides her in a cave and blocks it to protect her from Manfred and ends up fighting one of the mysterious knights. Theodore badly wounds the knight, who turns out to be Isabella's father, Frederic. With that, they all go up to the castle to work things out. Frederic falls in love with Matilda and he and Manfred begin to make a deal about marrying each other's daughters. Manfred, suspecting that Isabella is meeting Theodore in a tryst in the church, takes a knife into the church, where Matilda is meeting Theodore. Thinking his own daughter is Isabella, he stabs her. Theodore is then revealed to be the true prince of Otranto and Matilda dies, leaving Manfred to repent. Theodore becomes king and eventually marries Isabella because she is the only one who can understand his true sorrow.
"I can forgive injuries, but never benefits". — Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
The Castle of Otranto is believed to be the first gothic novel and essential reading for both fans and scholars of the genre. The story is about Manfred, the lord of the castle, and his family.
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When an unfortunate accident kills the son of Manfred, lord of the castle of Otranto, on the boy’s wedding day, his father is not just stricken with grief, but with fear. Terrified of an ancient prophecy fortelling the end of Manfred’s family line, the lord attempts to trump fate by divorcing his own wife and marrying his son Conrad’s intended bride.
Isabella, still reeling from the death of her fiance, immediately flees, and begins a harrowing journey fraught with peril, encounters with the supernatural, and situations too haunting to be mere coincidence.
This fascinating blend of ancient and modern romance is considered the first Gothic novel, giving birth to the genre that would inspire Edgar Allen Poe, Ann Radcliffe, and Bram Stoker.
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In the second and subsequent editions, Walpole acknowledges authorship of his work, writing: "The favourable manner in which this little piece has been received by the public, calls upon the author to explain the grounds on which he composed it" as "an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern. In the former all was imagination and improbability: in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with success...". There was some debate at the time about the function of literature, that is, whether or not works of fiction should be representative of life, or more purely imaginative (i.e. natural vs. romantic). The first edition was well received by some reviewers who understood the novel as belonging to medieval fiction, "between 1095, the era of the First Crusade, and 1243, the date of the last", as the first preface states; and some referred to Walpole as an "ingenious translator". Following Walpole's admission of authorship, however, many critics were loath to lavish much praise on the work and dismissed it as absurd, fluffy, romantic fiction.
In his 1924 edition of The Castle of Otranto, Montague Summers showed that the life story of Manfred of Sicily inspired some details of the plot. The real medieval castle of Otranto was among Manfred's possessions (font: Wikipedia)