Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (novel #150)

“I fear no man’s displeasure,” said Theodore, “when a woman in distress puts herself under my protection.”

The Castle of Otranto is a 18thCentury gothic story; indeed, it is considered the first novel of the genre. I don’t remember exactly how or when I first heard of this novel, but I’ve been excited about reading it for some time now. Those high expectations are often cause for a letdown, but not this time.

It was a thrilling fast-paced tale, that I finished in three sittings. As an unnamed commentator put it in the preface to the first edition:
Terror, the author’s principal engine, prevents the story from ever languishing; and it is so often contrasted by pity, that the mind is kept up in a constant vicissitude of interesting passions.

Though it is rightly called a gothic story, I would say it is written in the romantic style. The women are pure and virtuous, the men decisive and commanding, both heroes and villains. And although Walpole portrays all three women as submissive, they are neither simple nor weak. There’s actually one more female character, a maid, a comic character, who added one more level of enjoyment to this tale.

It opens on the happy occasion of the marriage between Conrad, heir to the Castle Otranto, and Isabella – but poor Conrad survives only the first page. From that moment, it is a dizzying spectacle of intrigue, chivalry, and a hint of the supernatural. There are numerous twists, and turns, secret passages, family secrets revealed, lost heirs found, curses, threats, and promises, quickly shifting passions and loyalties, terrifying specters and more than one forbidden love story. There is justice in the end, but no fairy tale ending. 

I enjoyed it immensely. Have you read the Castle of Otranto, or Walpole? What did you think?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies square B3, book published at least 200 years ago, in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and Classic about a family in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.


If heaven has selected me for thy deliverer, it will accomplish its work, and strengthen my arm in thy cause. ~ Theodore

It is not ours to make election for ourselves: heaven, our fathers, and our husbands must decide for us. ~ Hippolita

To heap shame on my own head is all the satisfaction I have left to offer to offended heaven. ~ Manfred



  1. i thought it delightful, and i recall being tempted to label it sci fi just because of the giant glove!

    1. Yes, it comes close to Sci-Fi, and/or Horror as well. Regardless of what we call it, it was very entertaining.

  2. Ha! I have just wondered 3 days ago, whether to put this book into my list or not. Thanks to you, Joseph, to make my mind up! :)

  3. Great review. I have it on my reading list, but haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to it.

    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks for the feedback :)


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