The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

I had heard quite a bit about this book before studying it at university for ‘The Gothic’ module. I’d heard that it was the founder of gothic literature and that it was a story full of frightful happenings and tragic characters.

On the day of his wedding, Conrad, heir to the house of Otranto, is killed in mysterious circumstances. Fearing the end of his dynasty, his father, Manfred, determines to marry Conrad’s betrothed, Isabella, until a series of supernatural events stands in his way

Wow, ok. So this book completely through me. THERE WERE NO SPEECH MARKS! NO. SPEECH. MARKS. AT. ALL. It completely threw me off of who was talking and when. Sometimes, it was hard to tell when there was even dialogue.

What you have to take into consideration when reading this book was that it was first published in 1764 so language was different, novels were written and published in different ways… It’s not going to be as easy to read as contemporary novels. It’s also not going to be what we – in the 21st century – consider to be ‘scary’. I kept all of these things in my head whilst reading this book but sometimes it was hard to get past how strange it was. And when I say ‘strange’, I mean that it didn’t make sense half of the time and it seemed to take major leaps of faith when it came to the plot.


“He was persuaded he could know no happiness but in the society of one with whom he could for ever indulge the melancholy that had taken possession of his soul.”

― Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto


There’s falling, killing helmets, pictures that move and look like they bleed, and other supernatural elements. But they are all one massive overarching metaphor for Manfred and him only thinking about wanting an heir to his family.

I was lucky enough to actually go to Horace Walpole’s very own summer house: Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham! It was so strange to see where he slept, his LIBRARY! and the inspiration for the very first gothic novel.

Overall, I didn’t really enjoy reading this short novel. It confused me at times, the writing style wasn’t for me and I thought that the plot was quite weak. However, considering that it’s the first gothic novel ever written, I think it’s only right for me to give props to Walpole for that feat alone. Even if he didn’t admit to writing it the first time he was asked…

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