Obsessed with preserving his noble blood line, the Prince of Otranto has decided to marry his one and only son at a young and tender age, but on the day of the wedding disaster strikes as a giant helmet falls from the sky and crushes the young man.
What follows is a number of ghostly events about the castle, horrific revelations of the true heir to Otranto and a series of catastrophes, all of which seem to be messages to the prince but none of which can halt him from attempting to divorce his wife and marry a younger woman, in the hope of still having a son.
Although by today’s standards this may seem a very timid book, when it was published in 1764 Walpole was so worried about the reaction to The Castle of Otranto that he not only published it pseudonymously but also claimed it to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades, rather than his own novel.
At the time, readers found the book to be utterly terrifying, and Thomas Gray even wrote that upon reading the book, he and his family were now “afraid to go to bed o’ nights”.
As a lover of literature I can thoroughly appreciate this novel as being ahead of its time when it was published, inspiring to many future authors and well deserving of its place on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list.
However, although I can appreciate it that does not mean I enjoyed it. The novel is incredibly Shakespearean in style, with the classic order of scenes, over the top reaction to every event and typical betrayal of family members on the search of a royal throne, and to me this is boring to read.
I am sure that if I had read it in 1764 I would have found it to be utterly amazing, but, unlike many classics of the same period, such as Voltaire’s Cadide, The Castle of Otranto does not hold its own in modern times and has not remained relevant or exciting compared with more recent works.
Put it this way, if you absolutely love Shakespeare read the Castle of Otranto, however, if you appreciate Shakespeare as a play write but can’t actually stand reading it, avoid this book!