The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Back when I first started graduate school in 2009 (my Master’s degree, to be precise), I thought I was going to specialize in British eighteenth and nineteenth century literature. I thought I was going to look at Gothic novels as part of that specialty. I acquired several Gothic novels over the course of the next two years. And lo and behold, I changed my mind in the first year of my PhD. Oops. I have a small handful of British novels yet to read, and The Castle of Otranto is one of them. [Sidenote: you should most definitely read Matthew Lewis’s The Monk if you never read another Gothic novel in your life. HILARIOUS. There are nipples and cross-dressing and sex and a monk so deliciously, evilly bad, that even Satan is all, “Bye, Felicia.” READ IT AND LAUGH.]
Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is considered to be the Gothic novel that started a trend in the eighteenth century, though Lewis’s The Monk is (deservedly) the most famous (and the most entertaining. Okay, I’ll stop talking it up now). It is the story of the count of Otranto, Manfred, and the horrible prophecy he tries to avoid. When his only son and heir, Conrad, is gruesomely killed on his wedding day, Manfred determines that his wife’s inability to produce another male heir is to blame, and that he should marry Conrad’s betrothed, Isabella. Isabella, however, is not all about that, and she determines to escape the castle with the help of a mysterious peasant. That mysterious peasant turns out to be noble in disguise, and Manfred’s daughter Matilda suddenly realizes that she has a heart and a vagina to give. Well, okay, maybe she hasn’t figured out her vagina yet. But rest assured, there is plenty to swoon and sniff your fainting salts over!
[sidenote: NBC’s Telenovela is a hilarious takedown of telenovelas. It also captures what it’s like to be Hispanic-American in the US (particularly if you are Caribbean), and it’s a delight. I am no Eva Longoria fan, but she’s killing it on there.]
Amazon’s book blurb describes the events as “a heady mix that is both chilling and terrifying,” which is laying it on a biiiiiiit thick, in my opinion. I mean, with a Gothic novel, there is a certain (a) suspension of disbelief and (b) willingness to enjoy the ridiculous that the reader must provide in order to enjoy it. And while this was a one-time read for me, I did find amusement in the drama and supernatural events that took place.