The Castle of Otranto
The growth of literature has been quite interesting. From the early centuries where only a specific genre was widely accepted ,to the later ages when it became more accommodative to new styles and ideas. While most of the literary works done were slowly related and hence incorporated into the mainstream, there was none that played a leading role in changing the literary landscape like the Castle of Otranto. The novel was revolutionary as it heralded the use of fiction in literature. It encompassed all the aspects of gothic literature, such as suspense, terror, the supernatural, as well as the experiences of women in a patriarchal society.
The Castle of Otranto is a novel authored by Horace Walpole in the year 1764. It was the first novel of its kind to combine fiction and horror, death happiness and romance at some point. Additionally, it was the first ever Gothic fiction novel. The novel has a high sense of medievalism and terror. The Gothic fiction genre that he initiated through this novel later became a mainstay genre in literature, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It was soon picked up by many other authors.
The novel is a story of a family of a prince named Manfred, his wife Hippolita and their children Matilda and Conrad. The novel begins by marriage preparations between Conrad and a princess named Isabella. However, moments before the marriage, Conrad is fatally crushed by a giant helmet and this greatly terrifies his father. How the huge helmet transported itself from the statue of Alfonso offers one characteristic of gothic literature; the supernatural. There is also the other characteristic of prophecies and their fulfilment, as the father soon recalls how an ancient deed committed by the grandfather set the tone for everything. He remembers a dream that he once had, that the castle will one day come to pass from their family. The other utilization of the supernatural is the use of ghosts in the novel. Apparently, these ghosts played a great role in advancing the plot of the story. They were also related in one way or the other, to the characters in the novel.
Theodore, a young peasant who comes to the wedding says he saw the helmet and says it looked like the one from the statue of Otranto founder named Alfonso. Upon the death of his son, Manfred plans to marry Isabella himself and starts plans to divorce his wife claiming that she has failed to give him an heir to the throne and also claims that they are related to each other. When he tells Isabella about his plan to marry her, she is terrified and flees to a passage beneath the castle. In her escape, she coincidentally meets Theodore escaping from the helmet. Theodore helps her to escape.
Manfred continues with his search for Isabella and confronts Theodore who denies of having any knowledge of her whereabouts. Theodore is a singer and one day Matilda listens to him sing and admires his voice. Amidst all these, Father Jerome comes from the convent and warns Manfred of his plans to divorce his wife saying that it would be an offense to God. However, he assures him of Isabella’s safety. Manfred then orders the killing of Theodore but as Theodore removed his shirt, Jerome recognizes a mark below his shoulder and realizes that he was his long-lost son.
Jerome begs for Theodore’s life and Manfred grants it in exchange for Isabella’s release. At that moment, a herald comes in and says that a Knight was there to rescue Isabella. They go into a search but Theodore is quick to hide Isabella in a cave. The Knight arrives at the place and Theodore engages him in a vicious fight, only to realize it was Isabella’s father, Frederick. Manfred convinces Fredrick to marry Matilda as he himself marries Isabella. Fredrick agrees but Matilda was already in love with Theodore.
Manfred plans to kill Theodore as he meets Matilda in church but accidentally kills his own daughter. Great sorrow fills the family. In the end, it is revealed that Theodore was the real prince of Otranto and he marries Isabella. Manfred is left to repent. The Castle of Otranto combines sorrow, love and horror to bring out the theme of terror and disgust in Manfred’s character, as well as his great lack of self-control.
The novel incorporates all the elements of the genre. Such elements are quite important because of the fact that they bring life, relevance and meaning to the skeleton of gothic literature. It can be noted that the castle occupies a central role in the plot of the story. Quite basically, the castle aims to create that element of mystery, which to a greater extent sets the ground for the supernatural. In conclusion, Walpole managed to come up with a genre that has continued being part and parcel of literature to this day.