“Where is my son?”
A volley of voices replied, “Oh, my lord! the prince! The prince, the helmet! the helmet!”
This unsettling incident sets the tone for the rest of Horace Walpole’s complicated tale, full of intrigue and subterfuge.
Manfred, Prince of Otranto has acquired his title and the coveted Castle of Otranto, through dishonest means. The death of his only son – Conrad – on the day of his wedding to Isabella, under what appears to be supernatural circumstances, triggers a host of events, that Manfred attempts to influence in order to prevent the prediction of an ancient prophecy coming true.
‘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.’
Along the way, revelation after revelation comes to light, as Walpole takes pleasure in unravelling his rather complicated plot. Elements of horror, Shakespearean villainy, knights and fair maidens, jostle with one another, as each tries to grab the reader’s attention.
Written in 1764, the book’s place in literary history is assured as it is considered the very first example of the Gothic novel, where the supernatural and real life collide, and is also seen as the inspiration for later works such as The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein and Dracula.
Though I confess some of the language can be a little difficult to follow at times, I didn’t let it deter me from reading to the end. My curiosity to discover how the author would tie up all his loose ends, proved stronger than the minor frustrations I encountered with my copy of the text and its layout. To sum up, if I were to describe Walpole’s ground breaking novel in one word I would call it bonkers.
The Castle of Otranto is my March book for the Pretty Books 2016 Classics Challenge.
© All text BH 2016