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Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto

October 21, 2010

121. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)

Length: 136 pages
Genre: Classics, Gothic Horror

Started: 29 September 2010
Finished: 03 October 2010

Where did it come from? Bookmooch / Free e-book from Amazon.
Why do I have it? I’d known about it for a while, but it was Nymeth’s review that convinced me to give it a try.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 October 2010.

Well, people get crushed
by giant helmets in MY
backyard all the time.

Summary: When the Lord of Otranto’s only son is killed on the morning of his wedding day (crushed by a giant metal helmet that appeared out of nowhere, no less), the Lord begins to scheme. In a desparate attempt to secure more heirs, he pursues Isabella, his son’s promised bride. She (understandably) flees in terror, aided by a young villager, and so begins several days of terror and unbelievable happenings, complete with walking portraits, giant swords, black knights, secret tunnels, long-lost sons, mysterious prophecies, deathbed confessions, and love at first sight.

Review: Holy cow. People used to read this? This is the highest form of melodrama, coupled with a bizarre kind of ghost story, and all rendered in prose so overwrought and purple that it’s approaching ultraviolet. I couldn’t ever get into the story because I kept thinking “….really?!?”, and there was so much wailing and clutching at clothing that I never sympathized with any of the characters, either. I understand that the over-done and over-emphasized version of *everything* was the style, and that by reading this out of context and out of its time, I’m almost certainly judging it by an unfair set of standards. But MY GOD, everything about this was just So Much – so much drama, so many plot twists, so many coincidences and strange unexplained happenings, so many epiphanies and raging emotions and Dramatic Speeches – that it wound up feeling like a high school drama production. I feel like Shakespeare would have read this and been like “Damn, that’s a lot of melodrama. Now let me go see if I can squeeze another death into the end of Hamlet.” 2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It didn’t do much for me, but I’m a total Philistine and I read it totally devoid of any historic context. Those who are better-versed in the literary period than I am will almost definitely have an easier time of things.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Books I Done Read, Eclectic / Eccentric, A Library of My Own, Novel Insights, Ready When You Are C.B., Savidge Reads, Things Mean a Lot
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Manfred, prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 28: “Some persons may perhaps think the characters of the domestics too little serious for the general cast of the story; but besides their opposition to the principal personages, the art of the author is very observable in his conduct of the subalterns.” – people of lower status.
    .
  • Location 113: “Manfred, more enraged at the vigour, however decently exerted, with which the young man had shaken off his hold, then appeased by his submission, ordered his attendants to seize him, and, if he had not been withheld by his friends whom he had invited to the nuptials, would have poignarded the peasant in their arms.” – stabbed with a small slender dagger.
    .
  • Location 542: ““I forgive your Highness’s uncharitable apostrophe; I know my duty, and am the minister of a mightier prince than Manfred.”” – an exclamatory passage in a speech or poem addressed to a person (typically one who is dead or absent) or thing (typically one that is personified.
    .
  • Location 1329: ““Lord bless me! understand your Highness? no, not I. I told her a few vulnerary herbs and repose – “” – of use in the healing of wounds.
    .
  • Location 1378: ““I was going by his Highness’s order to my Lady Isabella’s chamber; she lies in the watchet-coloured chamber, on the right hand, one pair of stairs: so when I cam eto the great stairs – I was looking on his Highness’s present here -“” – Pale or light blue.
    .

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2010 8:59 am

    Somehow, reading this review makes me feel I understand Catherine Morland a little better now.

    • October 22, 2010 9:28 am

      Omni – Northanger Abbey is one of the two Austen works I’ve yet to read, but I do get the sense that this would be excellent background reading.

  2. novelinsights permalink
    October 21, 2010 9:44 am

    HAHA, this made me laugh. I had a veeery similar reaction! Thanks for the link.

  3. October 21, 2010 2:10 pm

    I kept thinking “…really?” as well, but to me that was part of the fun :P I confess I enjoyed it mostly for the lulz.

    • October 22, 2010 9:30 am

      Nymeth – Okay, I’m realizing after the fact that I went into this with the wrong attitude. In my brain, classics = Serious Important Literature, so I wasn’t treating all the WTF moments as potential lulz.

  4. October 21, 2010 9:44 pm

    It sounds ridiculous, yet I’m intrigued.

    • October 22, 2010 9:30 am

      charley – I think both halves of that statement are right on the money. :)

  5. October 26, 2010 1:49 am

    LOL at the literary omnivore’s comment :D

    I have heard tons about this book, but never really thought of actually reading it. I must admit that your review (although negative), really makes me want to read the book more :). It just sounds like a lot of fun

    • October 26, 2010 10:30 am

      Nishita – You should read it! I went into it with entirely the wrong attitude, but if you go in expecting it to be fun and ridiculous, then you should be fine. Plus it’s *super* short, so even with all of the flowery melodramatic speechifying, it should still be a pretty quick read.

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