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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole
128 pages

first published in 1764

According to Wikipedia, this book "is generally regarded as the first Gothic novel, and it was indeed the first novel to describe itself by that term. Castle is thus generally credited with initiating the Gothic literary genre, one that would become extremely popular in the later 18th century and early 19th century."

At the time of it's original publication, this book would have come across as very mysterious and foreboding. It includes mysterious deaths, the reappearance of long-lost relatives, visions, superstitions, unrequited love, and lots more. Add that to the old-fashioned language and you end up with a story that would come across as a parody of Gothic lit if you didn't know that this was the tale that started it all.

I really enjoyed reading this brief story, but to be honest ... it made me laugh. I know it wasn't supposed to be funny but it was SO over-the-top that I just couldn't help myself. As I read the dialogue between the lord of the manor and the knights, I kept thinking of the Monty Python knights and especially this scene.

AND THEN! A new knight arrived, The Knight of the Gigantic Sabre, and I could only think of this scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights (scroll ahead to time marker 1:23 and you'll see what I'm talking about). What was supposed to have been a serious confrontation was completely ruined by that image - but ruined in a fun way!

It may not seem like it, but I really did enjoy this book. It was an easy read, not spectacular but definitely enjoyable.

I chose this book from the 1,001 Books list for the 1% Well Read Challenge '09. If you are still looking for books for this challenge, you should try this one out. It is a quick read, and you will definitely get a better understanding of the origins of Gothic lit tropes (and you might even get a laugh out of it).


bermudaonion said...

I'm impressed that you read a book that old. I think the language of the era would be intimidating.

Jenny Girl said...

I bet 128 pages back then was considered a tome!
Men in Tights always makes me laugh for being so silly, and don't get me started on Monty Python.

I was thinking about do this challenge as well, but I have so many going at the moment, at least for me. Good job Heather!

Teresa said...

I read this book in a Gothic lit class, and I agree it is sometimes hilarious. Entertaining, but hilarious. Sooo over-the-top, and it was one of the tamer books we read in that class. Try The Monk by Matthew Lewis if you want a really crazy story. And then there's Austen's brilliant mock-Gothic novel Northanger Abbey.

Anonymous said...

i know what you mean about finding those kinds of passages funny. its a pity in a way, but then we're reading it from such a different perspective from how readers did when it first came out.

i think seeing the humour in it is fun! definitely better than being bored by it. :D

thanks for the cool review!

Framed said...

Great review. I read this one last fall and found it hilarious.

Ms. SP said...

I'm getting ready to start this book myself. Right now, I'm halfway through the introduction, and it always talks about how significant the work is in the history of literature, but it doesn't actually say that the story itself is any good. I'm managing my expectations.

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