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Horror Novel Review – Horace Walpole – The Castle Of Otranto

1764 – Oxford World Classics

Crumbling castles, mad princes, ghosts everywhere – seen it all before in every horror story and Roger Corman movie right?

Yes, but Otranto is the first such work – the officially recognised first Gothic horror novel in English literature.

It is a cracking read; melodramatic cod-Shakespearian to the point of bonkers but it makes its ludicrous totally serious straight faced plot work incredibly well.

The story is possibly the strangest I ever read. On the day of the Italian wedding of Princess Isabella to Conrad, son of Prince Manfred, a giant warrior’s helmet inexplicably falls from the sky and flattens the groom dead.

The father, Manfred, goes quite crazy, deciding to force the local priest (father Jerome) to arrange for him to divorce his wife, Hippolyta) so Manfred can marry Isabella himself.

Isabella flees, assisted by a mysterious stranger, Theodore, as Manfred finds even the castle portraits springing to life to try to force an end to his folly. With Isabella seeking sanctuary in Jerome’s church, Theodore facing execution, despite being revealed to be Jerome’s long lost son, everything moves at breakneck pace to an almighty tragedy the Bard would be gadzooked by for sure.

Massively entertaining short novel, with more notes and essays on it in most editions than actual text.

Arthur Chappell

Image Credit » Horror skull, taken by me

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msiduri wrote on January 16, 2015, 9:46 AM

I've read this. Quite to gothic fest, isn't it? Helmet falling out of the sky, long lost sons, and princes who a barking mad.

NorthernLight wrote on January 16, 2015, 9:54 AM

Thanks for the resume. I had wondered what it was it about.

Elfbwillow wrote on January 16, 2015, 4:36 PM

I havent read this one though it does sound quite interesting