The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In The Castle of Otranto, recognized as the first gothic novel, Horace Walpole combines supernatural occurrences and heroic behaviors associated with the Romantic tradition to tell the story of Manfred, prince of Otranto, whose zeal for satisfying his own lusts for power and sexual gratification lead to his downfall. The tale opens on the wedding day of Manfred’s son Conrad, who is betrothed to the countess Isabella. Before the ceremony, a giant helmet falls from a parapet, crushing Conrad. A peasant, Theodore, claims that the helmet is like that on the statue of the good Prince Alonso; angered, Manfred has Theodore imprisoned.

Manfred then concocts a scheme to be divorced from his wife, Hippolita, and marry Isabella himself. Isabella is repulsed by the idea and flees into a passage beneath the castle; there she meets Theodore, who has escaped from imprisonment. He helps Isabella make her way to a nearby church. Manfred recaptures Theodore, but as he accosts him, word comes that a giant is sleeping in the castle.

The next day, Father Jerome comes to inform Manfred that Isabella is safe in the church. Manfred uses the occasion to suggest his divorce and remarriage. Father Jerome is horrified, particularly because he believes Isabella is in love with someone else. Thinking Theodore is his rival, Manfred orders him executed, but when Father Jerome discovers a strange mark on the young man, he announces that Theodore is really his own...

(The entire section is 528 words.)