Horace Walpole – The Castle Of Otranto

The Castle Of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole is considered to be the first Gothic novel. It was Walpole who coined the name in fact and he set a number of Gothic story elements that have since then been copied extensively: romance, gloomy locations and atmosphere, tragedy and supernatural occurrences. Walpole also lets the story take place in mediaeval times so it has some minor historical elements as well.

The novel is not long. The edition I had was only 80 pages, so one could call it a novella, were it not for the somewhat small letters and the lack of paragraphs and a lack of punctuation, especially in dialogues. It is all crammed together, no matter who’s talking, which makes it troublesome to follow who’s speaking. I should call it a kind of laziness on the side of the editor. Can it be that hard to add some hard enters? If done so it would not have surprised me the number of pages would have doubled.

Either way, it was fortunate that the prose of Walpole is overall very accessible and easily readable. He manages to keep a good pace in his plot with plenty of twists and drama. As a Gothic tale it is a strange story at times, although one could compare it these days to typical soap elements. The difference of course is that it is written in the 18th century and certain plot elements were more common while they are categorized more typically these days. Such is what one can expect if one takes up old novels.

While the story does manage to entertain the plot is not very coherent. I had some trouble keeping the whole picture, although the lack of punctuation and paragraphs could have influenced my view. It is mainly a weird story that does leave an impression because of the twists and the heavy drama. So as the first Gothic novel it is an interesting read, but not that good. What of course doesn’t help is that nowadays we are quite familiar with his at the time original plot elements which would now be seen as somewhat cliché.

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