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Showing 1-10 of 61 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 112 reviews
on May 23, 2016
I first read The Castle of Otranto, in college. It is reputedly the original horror story that caused Bram Stoker to create Dracula. It scared poor British boys so bad they lost sleep. I don't know about that, but I would bet money on the fact that Horace Walpole knew how a good scarey story would take the impressionable Englishmen. Walpole's friend, Thomas Grey wrote to him that his gothic horror story scared the students of Cambridge so much that it made “some of them cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o’ nights.” It was 1765.

So he had this dream... A castle, a staircase, a huge armored glove in a gallery.

Then he sat down and wrote a book that he attributes to fictional character, “William Marshal, gentleman, from the Italian of Onuphro Muralto, canon of the Church of St. Nicholas, at Otranto", which Walpole claims to have found and translated from the original Italian. Dating of the of the story is placed between the first and second Crusade, sometime between 1095 A.D. and 1243 A.D., though the fictional book itself was written in the 1500's. The real book was written in English and printed in 1765.

He had a printing press... Yes, young peanut. Self publishing happened earlier then the twenty first century.

The rest is history. The medieval fantasy / gothic horror franchises had opened their doors for business.

Between the prophecy, the knights and castles, the Crusades, the zealous tyrant, the lost heir, the swooning damsels, the dying hermit, the dead knight returning to reclaim his daughter AND gigantic armor that kills people, well how can you turn that down?

My favorite part was when something terrifying happened, it always happened when the Prince of Otranto was out of the room, but many of his staff and servants saw it. They would run to him, arriving breathlessly to warn him of the danger, then start these long rambling tales. He could switch from one person to the other, trying to figure out what happened and still not understand as they would quiver, lead up to the terror and go off on tangents, etc., until he would explode in anger and finally get off his privileged butt to go see what scared them. Funniest thing. Happens three times.

Murder, mistaken identity, lost heirs, Crusaders, freed slaves, prophecies, big men with swords, saints, chases in burial vaults, secret passages, a runaway Princess, long lost parental units, a feisty priest, and a dying hermit with God on his side, not to mention the gigantic killing armor.

Highly Recommended!
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on March 10, 2014
I read this novel in a Gothic literature course in college. I recall finding it tedious. I wanted to give it another chance and I enjoyed it much more now that I will not be tested on it. This novel is frequently cited as the first truly gothic novel. The author, Horace Walpole, deserves credit for the mysterious atmosphere, the supernatural apparitions, the will of the spirit world to set right an injustice from the past, the exotic setting (Catholic Italy). If you enjoy the modern gothic writers (for example Ann Rice) and modern movies about zombies and teenage vampires you might find this book tedious as I did in college. The prose style tends to ramble through long, long paragraphs, and the pacing of the plot is uneven. Nevertheless I enjoyed the unexpected plot twists and the supernatural elements. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the development of the Gothic novel and you like a good read about a haunted castle with a secret.
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on November 12, 2012
I went looking for a Gothic romance and, of course, Castle of Otranto kept coming up as a 'must read' and it sounded like the place to start. Knowing it had been written in the 1700's, I was expecting a weighty tome, hundreds of pages long and full of endless sentences and flowery prose. When it arrived, at first I thought I must nt have read carefully and had accidentally ordered something like a study guide or Cliff Notes. It was only about 127 pages and the first 30 pages seemed to be prefaces and introductions. (No, it said 'unabridged' right on the cover.)

The book itself is only about 90 pages long. The story moves along so fast that the author barely used paragraphs. Dialogue is exchanged in the same way. It's a cut-and-dried story without much atmosphere; absolutely no frills. Not what you'd call spellbinding at any point; it lacked the kind of tension and suspense that I was hoping for in a Gothic novel. I found myself rereading lots of times because characters seemed to just suddenly be there and I wasn't sure, at times, where they had come from. The general feel of the pacing is like your teenage daughter relating what happened in the last episode of Once Upon a Time.

The story itself is not bad and I kept thinking that this book needs a good rewrite with a little more atmosphere and color.

For me, a good book is one that is written in such a way that I'm not aware of the act of reading; the words, images and feelings just flow. This book isn't that. Yet I had to give it at least enough stars to indicate I enjoyed it, you know, once I was through it.
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on November 2, 2015
Considered the first Gothic literary novel, it may owe its continued popularity to historical value rather than the writing. Horace Walpole was certainly not the best British writer in the mid-1700s, and the character developments are by no means realistic. Nevertheless, the story itself is both implausible and entertaining, and it features all the traditional Gothic trappings (castles, churches, beautiful maidens chased by lusty men, supernatural events, etc.) that will satisfy readers of the genre. But this first of Gothic novels may not win over any new converts today. At least it's not too long of a read.
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on May 4, 2012
The Castle of Otranto is widely regarded as the first Gothic novel, and it definitely contains all the emotional melodrama, forbidden romance, spooky castle corridors, and supernatural happenings that one expects of that genre. In the preface to the first edition of 1764, Horace Walpole claimed that this work was a translation of a recently discovered Italian manuscript dating back to around the 12th century. The book was successful enough, however, that when the second edition came out, Walpole admitted that was all hogwash and took credit for writing his own work.

The story takes place in the principality of Otranto, in Italy, where Prince Manfred is lord of the land and its castle. Manfred is less than satisfied with the fertility of his wife Hippolita, for she has only given him one son and one daughter, but the impending marriage of his son Conrad serves to reassure him that soon he will have grandchildren to carry on the family line. When the wedding day arrives, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a mysterious giant helmet which falls from the sky. Naturally, all are horrified by this event, but it brings a special anguish to Manfred, for cruel fate has robbed him of his sole male heir. He becomes determined to rectify this matter by divorcing Hippolita and taking Conrad's bride Isabella for his own, though the union is decidedly against the young lady's will.

The Castle of Otranto still has some entertainment to offer the modern reader, but it's definitely acquired a dull patina over the past two and a half centuries. Though the macabre ambience and supernatural events depicted in the book may have filled its 18th century audience with shock and horror, a quarter of a millennium later these elements merely inspire amusement in today's reader. The reading public of 1764 also had a different attention span than readers of the 21st century. In those days they may not have minded sitting through dialogue that basically repeats the same conversation three or four times, but today these passages seem unnecessarily tedious. Nevertheless, there are enough twists and turns in this skillfully constructed fable to keep one interested. Over the course of the story each character's secret past is revealed, and all find they are related directly or indirectly to one another in some way, all entwined in a twisted web of connectivity reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo. As the narrative progresses, it is a pleasure to watch Manfred become more and more tyrannical, more obsessed with possessing Isabella. This obsession drives him to behave immorally, betray his family, and scorn the church. The obvious message of the book is that the more you fight the hand of God, the more it's going to come back to pound you, and there is a gratifying satisfaction in waiting for the inevitable hammer to fall.

I can't say I'm enamored with this book enough to give it a wholehearted endorsement, but if you enjoy the Gothic literature of writers like Edgar Allan Poe or Bram Stoker, or just historical literature in general, like Sir Walter Scott or Balzac, it might be worth your while to blow the dust off of The Castle of Otranto and give it a try.
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on April 3, 2012
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole was written in the 18th Century and heralds the Gothic style of literature favoured by writers of this period. As the renaissance is a revival of the Middle Ages art and architecture for France and Europe, Medieval literature is the revival of the dark ages with its mysterious void of historic records and influence by religion and the Celtic pagan beliefs of this era.

The story begins with the `Preface to the First Edition' referring to a document found in the library of a Catholic family, printed at Naples in 1529. This sets the location and period of the story being Italy and the end of the Middle Ages between 1095 and 1243 related to the era of the first Crusades. The narrator is attempting to qualify the existence of the characters and provide a background for the reader. The narrator summaries the authors authenticity of the story by stating that the story cannot be founded on truth but that the story as a saga is a moving epitome of a historic record.
The introduction of the characters follows the prelude: Manfred the Prince of Otranto, his wife Hippolita, his beautiful virgin daughter Matilda and his sickly and homely son Conrad who is contracted to marry the Marquis of Vicenza's daughter Isabella. There is some tension from the urgency to have this marriage fulfilled on Conrad's birthday and before it can occur, Conrad is killed by a giant Helmet that falls from the sky. It is the same helmet that belongs to the black marble figure of Alfonso the Good , who was the last known surviving heir to the Castle.

This strange event is the beginning of the very extraordinary plot which involves a young man Theodore who is arrested for the murder of Conrad. The plot reveals that Manfred has arranged the union of his son to the daughter of Marquis of Vincenzo as a political move to secure the rightful ownership of the castle. The castles original owner Alfonso, died and bequeathed the ownership of the castle to Manfred's great grandfather who was his personal servant at the time. Prince Manfred announces to Isabella that he will marry her in place of his son and Isabella flees to escape the Prince's madness.

As Isabella retreats, Manfred observes that the portrait of his Grand Father has come to life, and leads Manfred away giving Isabella time to evade Manfred's pursuit. She finds in the depths of the castle a passage and chamber that houses the young man arrested previously. He helps her escape through a secret trap door and remains behind to protect her retreat from the approaching Prince. The young man's bravado and chivalry is above his station as a poor country peasant which appears to be his downfall when he is imprisoned in the tower for his trouble and Manfred sentences him to death immediately.

Father Jerome, the friar from St Nicholas's church, is approached by the Prince to arrange the divorce of his wife to allow the sanction of his marriage to Isabella. The friar rejects the Princes demands yet Hippolita his wife, sides with the Prince displaying her loyalty to him. The friar leaves before he is committed to a decision to allow him to investigate Isabella's needs. The peasant boy reveals his name is Theodore and the friar discovers this is his forgotten son and that he is indeed noble of blood as the Friar was the Count of Falconara and begs for his son's life. There are more twists in this story than a snake in a bucket.

At this time a band of knights arrive at the castle to meet with the prince to challenge him for the release of Isabella on behalf of the Marquis of Vicenza. The Marquis' quest comes from a vision to save his daughter and is guided to the castle by a hermit who gives him a giant sword to carry to the castle.

Isabella who had been hiding from Manfred in the sanctuary of the church again flees to the forest and is pursued by the Prince and his army. The knights also follow with the aim to discover Isabella's hiding place before the Prince. Meanwhile, Matilda hears of the Theodore's plight and sets out to rescue him. Theodore falls in love with Matilda at first sight and is reluctant to leave her, only for the sake of finding Isabella that he agrees to leave in a suit of armour and sword.

Theodore finds Isabella in a cave on the escarpment but he is confronted by a knight who challenges Theodore to fight. The knight is nearly fatally injured and announces to Isabella that he is indeed her father, the Marquis of Vincenzo. Isabella accuses Theodore of murder and again he finds himself defending his actions.

On their return to the castle Manfred sees Theodore in his armour and believes he is the spectre of Alfonso standing before him. Theodore's story is told and his linage is revealed to the Marquis yet his freedom still remains within the hands of Manfred. Meanwhile Manfred continues to pursue his marriage to Isabella whilst matching the Marquis with his daughter Matilda as a concession. This is derailed when the spectre appears again causing the Marquis to withdraw himself and his daughter from their arrangement This angers Manfred to a madden rant. Seeking the tyrant boy he suspects to be accompanying Isabella in the chapel, drives a knife into the chest of the person he believed to be Isabella only to find it was Matilda he slay.

The final scene sees the spectre return to announce Theodore the true heir of Alfonso and true prince of Otranto.

Horace Walpole has created a classical medieval tale with The Castle of Otranto, with its setting in an Italian castle of the Middle Ages. A cold and darkened place that contains magical and mysterious episodes with portraits that come to life, visiting spirits, a mysterious hermit living in a cave, the absurd appearances of giant helmets, feet and hands that appear suddenly from nowhere. These are the hallmarks of Gothic writings typical of the 18th century.

The style of Walpole's story is a lot of fun; a light hearted novel that has themes of courtly love, death and chivalry carries the essence of Gothic literature through to the 20th century. The extreme nature of Walpole's writing is delivered through giant helmets falling from the sky to the extreme good and bad nature of the characters. The plot is continually twisted by death and coincidences such as the arrival of Theodore and his relationship with the castles. Walpole's novel is extremely influential to many Gothic writers. For those writers that had read this book, we can find common traits that can be found in many of their novels. Gothic stories, even though serious in nature, follow the same themes and ideas as found here. The Castle of Otranto is entirely characteristic of 18th century literature and this is why it still remains a popular novel today.

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on April 10, 2017
Interesting story of a cursed family trying to avoid paying the penalties for their ancestors treachery.
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on April 27, 2017
The characters and story are nothing to write home about, but it was the first Gothic Novel ever written, so without it we'd probably be missing a lot of other beloved things like Dracula and Frankenstein. So it's worth a read for that at least.
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on October 25, 2014
Fascinating story! Published originally in 1811, it is purported to be the first Gothic novel ever written. Even the 20-odd pages of introduction are worth reading, because they share so much valuable backstory. I first heard of this book on an NPR radio program. Still reading the intro, but loving it so far!
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on March 24, 2017
This is a pillar of the Gothic genre. A must-read if you like Gothic.
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