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The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764) - Horace Walpole

Related: castle (gothic novel trope) - 1760s - false document - Gothic novel - Horace Walpole - British literature - 18th century literature

The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct have nothing that savours of barbarism. --'false document' preface to first edition

The rise of fantastic fiction in France parallels the rise of the gothic novel in England. One of the marvellous and terrifying events which takes place in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764; the first Gothic novel) is the figure of Alfonso stepping down from his portrait, a portentous sign that Manfred's days at the castle are numbered. [Jun 2006]

The plot of ''The Castle of Otranto'' begins full tilt as Conrad, son of Manfred of house Otranto, is crushed by a giant helmet on his wedding day, also his birthday. Because of the marriage's political connections, Manfred decides to divorce his wife, Hippolita, and marry Conrad's betrothed, Isabella. Amid speculations about an "ancient prophecy" claiming "That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it," Manfred's second union is disrupted by a series of supernatural events involving many oversized limbs, ghosts, mysterious blood, and a true prince. [Jun 2006]

Title page, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (London: Thomas Lownds, 1765).
image sourced here.

The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764) - Horace Walpole [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 novel by Horace Walpole. It is generally held to be the first gothic novel, initiating a genre which would become extremely popular in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

The initial 1764 edition was titled in full The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto. This first edition purported to be a translation based on a manuscript printed at Naples in 1529 and recently rediscovered in the library of "an ancient Catholic family in the north of England." The Italian manuscript's story, it was claimed, derived from a story still older, dating back perhaps as far as the Crusades. This Italian manuscript, along with alleged author "Onuphrio Muralto," were Walpole's fictional creations, and "William Marshal" his pseudonym; the second and subsequent editions acknowledged Walpole's authorship of the work.

Book Description
First published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto purported to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades. In it Walpole attempted, as he declared in the Preface to the Second Edition, "to blend the two kinds of romance: the ancient and the modern." Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos, the novel was an immediate success and Walpole's own favorite among his numerous works. The novel is reprinted here from a text of 1798, the last that Walpole himself prepared for the press. --via Amazon.com --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Castle_of_Otranto [Jul 2005]

Breton, surrealism and the Castle of Otranto

Breton was incredibly well read and he mentions Walpole's Otranto not as the beginning of le fantastique but as a precursor to surrealism itself.

Breton sees the Romantic tradition as leading inevitably to its brightest culmination - the Surrealist revolution

Breton says of The Castle of Otranto, The production of such a work approaches, indeed, nothing less than the surrealist method. --Course of English Surrealist Poetry Since the 1930s (1989) - Rob Jackaman

Another mention of gothic horror, Otranto and surrealism:

This leads to the final, and most disturbing, affinity between Fantômas and surrealism: sublime horror. One of the defining qualities of surrealism is convulsive beauty, the "chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table." The shocking combination of revulsion and pleasure in the invocation of the surrealist conception of the marvelous has a long cultural genealogy, from gothic novels such as Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and the dark humor of Lautréamont's Maldoror, to the escapades of actual criminals and murders such as Germaine Berton, the Bonnot gang of anarchists, Landru (the "Bluebeard" of Gambais), Violette Nozières, and the von Papen sisters. Placed securely within that heritage, Fantômas is an unredeemed tale of unmotivated violence and death. --Robin Walz, 1996, Serial Killings: Fantômas, Feuillade, and the Mass-Culture Genealogy of Surrealism via http://www.fantomas-lives.com/fanto47.htm [Jun 2006]

See also: surrealism - Otranto - Breton - fantastique

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