In Walpole's short but pithy novel, the castle is decrepit and is home to Manfred, the current lord. Manfred is a character straight out of the traditional school of villainy. He's manipulative, abusive, and crazy. You know that something is just not right with Manfred's mind when he decides to marry the intended bride for his son, who has just died in the castle. Never mind that he already has a wife, for he thinks that he can always divorce her and force her to spend her remaining days in an abbey.
The bride Isabella escapes with the help of a mysterious character named Theodore, who turns out to be the rightful heir of Otranto. This isn't enough to make the reader's head spin though, for Walpole subtlety is nonexistent. In The Castle of Otranto, it is revealed that Theodore is the son of a friar (gasp!), that Otranto murders his own daughter thinking that it was Isabella, that two men can decide to marry each other's daughters as if it's an innocuous thing, and that Theodore marries Isabella in the end not because he loves her but because Isabella can relate to his sorrow.
The Castle of Otranto is over the top, I'm telling you. It's like written by someone who's both high on drugs and has a severe hangover. But, dear reader, the novel works! We know that this circumstances will appear to be just hysterical in today's prosaic world. But in the 18th century, these events are what make a novel truly gripping.
A best seller when it was published in 1764, The Castle of Otranto has proven to be a very seminal work in gothic fiction, inspiring writers such as Stoker, Radcliffe, Poe, and even Du Maurier in the gothic tradition. If you're truly a fan of gothic fiction, then reading The Castle of Otranto is a given. The novel, which just a little over 100 pages, is one that novel that never fails to entertain, to shock, and, with its convoluted and highly improbable plot, to amaze.
Read this book if:
- You're a big fan of gothic fiction.
- You love novels set in crumbling castles.
- You're in the mood for something totally over the top.