In what ways are mystery and suspense created in The Castle of Otranto?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Horse Walpole's pivotal novel set the genre of the Gothic novel in motion and defines many of the elements that make a work "Gothic." Among these are its castle setting, its central plot mystery, its endangered heroine, and the pervasive atmosphere of mystery and suspense which is engendered largely through the presence of the preceding factors. 

As in any genre, a large part of how suspense is created involves the sense of there being a secret unknown to the reader and the main characters alike. In this novel, there is also a strong supernatural element: early in the novel, Conrad is found crushed to death by a giant helmet, which sets up intrigue in the minds of characters and reader alike: what forces are manipulating the castle and its occupants? Are they in danger?

The mystery of Theodore's parentage also serves to add mystery and suspense, especially as it is revealed piece by piece, beginning with the discovery of the birthmark. Finally, the sequence in which an unknown lady (the reader is unsure if it is Isabella or Matilda) is discovered and then killed in the tomb marks an extended passage filled with suspense and intrigue.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is considered one of the classics of Gothic fiction. The story has many of the melodramatic elements typical of Gothic fiction, including a setting in a remote castle, characters who are members of the nobility, supernatural events and portents, mistaken or mysterious identity, and somewhat flat characters, either purely good or purely evil. This is not a novel of character, but of plot, and the suspense and mystery in the story are advanced in two ways.

The first is by supernatural events and portents, such as the giant helmet, the skeletal hermit, the giant sword, and the giants. The second way the author creates suspense is by withholding information from readers and from characters in the novel, such as the identity of Theodore and the evil past of Manfred. The final method the author uses to create suspense is by putting sympathetic characters, Theodore and Isabella, in jeopardy.