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Analysis of Walpole's 'The Castle of Otranto'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1570 words Published: 11th Aug 2021

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Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto in l764.In doing so Walpole shaped a new genre; he made the first gothic novel. He invented all of the parts associated with a gothic novel. Many elements in gothic literature have been reproduced repeatedly over time. The main elements of it are: The setting is in a castle, an atmosphere f mystery and suspense, ancient prophecy, omens, the supernatural, high emotion, women in distress, women threatened by a tyrannical male, metaphors of gloom and terror, and vocabulary of the gothic.

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All of these elements encompass Walpole’s imagination and dreams, and they still hold true today in the same genre within the gothic realm, there are reoccurring themes of violent deaths and supernaturalism. Another fact is that the gothic novel would not be complete unless it intertwined love with terror. There has to be a forbidden love and a deceitful man who has to have his way. All of this happens while ghosts and omens linger over everyone’s head. However, gothic novels true to the form are essentially terror, and not horror. First, only terror is used in gothic genre. Terror means using the suspense of the unknown and supernatural in the plot, that certain words and phrases are used to heighten a reader’s sense of fear and curiosity. Horror on the other hand is all of the blood and guts that we see today. Most deaths that happen in horror are needless and do not have anything to do with the plot. Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto established all of the necessary elements to comprise the gothic novel, which survives today.

Walpole’s narrative, inspired by a dream, presents a veritable panoply of supernatural wonders. Its first pages set the tone for the bizarre events that take place in a castle of horrors, where lives hang in the balance at every moment. Manfred, prince of Otranto, has contracted a marriage for his only son Conrad with the princess Isabella. The wedding ceremony is delayed by the absence of the bridegroom, who, after a frantic search, is found in the courtyard, dashed to pieces by an enormous helmet. That helmet mysteriously transported itself from a black marble statue of Alfonso, the former ruler of the principality, to the courtyard. Manfred is driven to a near state of distraction, not so much by his son’s death as by the fear that an ancient prophecy, dating from the time that Alfonso’s domains were usurped by Manfred’s ancestors, will at last be fulfilled. Although Alfonso was thought to have died of natural causes, he was in fact poisoned by Manfred’s grandfather, Ricardo. A forged document declared Ricardo heir to the Castle of Otranto. Haunted by guilt, Ricardo re-turned to Otranto, confessed his sins, and was promised that his posterity would reign in Otranto “until the rightful owner should be grown too large to inhabit the castle, and as long as issue male from Ricardo’s loins should remain to enjoy it.” The loss of his only male descendant suggests to Manfred that the prophecy is nearing fulfillment. Transported by fear and rage, he resolves to divorce his saintly, but now barren, wife and to wed the woman betrothed to his son.

Manfred’s attempts to ward off the fate threatening his house are in vain. The very measures he takes to ensure male offspring only provoke further portents that his reign is drawing to a close. A portrait descends bodily from its frame; blood drips from the nose of a statue; a skeleton in hermit’s cowl warns of danger; and a fantastic giant distributes his limbs about the castle. Manfred nonetheless refuses to be terrorized by these apparitions and clings tenaciously to the idea that he can circum-vent the prophecy by securing for himself a son.

For Manfred, the prophecy seems to lack authority without the presence of a male descendant on Alfonso’s side. He is unaware that Alfonso has in fact left an heir who has found his way back from Sicily to the home of his fathers. Theodore, Alfonso’s grandson and thus the true heir to Otranto, seems to haunt the castle with the measured regularity of his ghostly ancestor. He is forever escaping from well-fortified prisons, rescuing damsels in distress, and stalking through the labyrinthian corridors of the castle. When he dons armor, he looks to Manfred like a “ghastly phantom” and fills his soul with “secret terrors” and “secret sensations.” In his resemblance to Alfonso’s portrait, Theodore figures as a terrifyingly familiar presence. He exemplifies both literally and figuratively what Freud called “die Wiederkehr des Verdriingten,” the return of what has been at once displaced (or usurped) and repressed. By incarnating Manfred’s fears and by bringing his deepest secrets to light, Theodore becomes an uncanny presence in the narrative and thus outstrips his ghostly ancestor’s power to haunt. What Manfred had sought to keep heimlich has emerged from the depths of psychic repression to confront him physically in Theodore’s unheimlich presence.

Important parts o f Walpole’s creation are all of the different elements that comprise the genre. These elements are important because they provide a blueprint for the layout of a gothic novel. Such element of gothic novel is that the setting takes place in a castle. The Castle of Otranto includes an old castle which is passed down through the ages from family member to family member. The castle has a mysterious past, and secret underground passages that lead to a church. The underground passages of the castle were described as “hollowed into several intricate cloisters . . . and consisting of a long labyrinth of darkness” (Walpole 27).The castle element helps to add mystery to the story, and provides a reasonable place for supernatural beings to haunt.

The second element that makes up the gothic novel is an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. Within the novel there should be some parts that give the readers a threatening feeling or fear of the supernatural. Situations that would help this mood are people disappearing r other unexplainable events. For example, when Manfred was trying to follow Isabella and ran into a ghost, he cried:

The ninth element is the aspect of using imagery for gloom and terror by incorporating it into the writing. Some of these phrases could involve howling wind, hearing footsteps, rusty hinges, moans or howls, and doors slamming shut. One example in The Castle of Otranto is when Isabella is running in the underground passages “An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed, and which granting on the rusty hinges were re-echoed…(“W alpole2 7).In the previous account, Walpole happened to use two cases of imagery for gloom and terror. One was the wind, and the other was the rusty hinges. All of the imagery adds to the atmosphere and mystery of the gothic novel.

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The last element that makes up a gothic novel is using the vocabulary of the gothic. The gothic language is not that much different from today’s language, but it does have some words that are always incorporated in it. For example, if a writer were trying to express mystery, he or she would use words like enchantment, haunted, prophecy, omens, and vision. Another example would be using words like anguish, shrieks, wretched, despair and horrid to try to describe fear and sorrow. It does not seem like a big change, but the story would not sound right if it did not have these certain aspects to its language, That is why the element of vocabulary is imperative to the gothic novel.

Violent deaths and the supernatural seem to surround the reoccurring themes in the gothic genre. The deaths can be sudden and with no warning at all, like when Manfred accidentally kills his own daughter Matilda. It started when Manfred overheard Matilda saying “Manfred will never permit our union. No, this shall prevent it! cried the tyrant, drawing his dagger, and plunging it over her shoulder into the bosom of the person that spoke-Ah me, I am slain! cried Matilda sinking” (Walpole 108). In addition, the ghosts tend to be there to bring out results, like pointing people in the right direction or passing a long message. They usually end up being related to somebody in the story. For example, the ghost of Manfred’s grandfather visits him when he least expects it. That ghost prevents Manfred from immediately catching Isabella. In the end, the ghost serves a valuable purpose in advancing the plot of the story.

In conclusion, Walpole invented a very valuable genre and also created all of the elements necessary to make it work. The genre was so well done, and liked, that it still exists today. He believed that he needed the concept of the supernatural: A god, or at least a ghost, was absolutely necessary, to frighten us out of too much sense. He explored us as human beings knowing we desire to be interested by terror. He blended mystery, love, and terror and called it gothic. The media in today’s society still takes elements from Walpole’s novel to use in their own works. It is in this sense why the genre still exists to this day. It is witty, creative, and bold enough to intrigue the readers.

Work Cited

Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797. (1963). The castle of Otranto. New York :Collier Books,


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