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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 gothic horror novel written by the 4th Earl of Oxford, Horace Walpole. It is considered the first gothic story ever written, and as such, it influenced various poems, novels, plays, and many other literary works that came after its publication. The novel tells the story of Manfred, the evil lord of Otranto, who decides to marry his late son’s fiancee, the kind princess Isabella, in order to secure the continuation of his bloodline in the face of a dangerous and mysterious curse.

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The novel incorporates many typical themes found in old and modern gothic tales, such as love, sorrow, death, supernatural beings, justice, tyranny, bravery, and revenge. It follows the story of three typical main characters. First, there is the classical hero of the story—the handsome and brave peasant Theodore, who is the rightful heir to the throne of Otranto. Then, we have the classical damsel in distress—the kind and beautiful princess Isabella, who was initially set to marry the evil lord’s son, Prince Connor (their wedding was tragically interrupted when a giant helmet fell on Connor's head and crushed him to death). The evil lord decides to marry her, but she falls in love with Theodore and tries to escape form Manfred.

Finally, there’s the classical antagonist—the tyrannical lord of the castle of Otranto—Manfred, who is afraid that his son’s untimely death marks the beginning of a curse that will terminate his bloodline. Thus, he decides to divorce his wife, Hippolita, and marry Princess Isabella. Naturally, she refuses and escapes, with the help of Theodore, as Manfred vows to find them and kill them both. Blinded by rage and revenge, he mistakes his own daughter, Matilda, for Isabella and stabs her. The novel ends with the marriage between Theodore and Isabella, who become the new rulers of Otranto, as Manfred is left to beg for forgiveness.

The Castle of Otranto was described as a perfect mix of realistic fiction and supernatural elements, and it received a lot of praise in its time, especially for its edgy, suspenseful, and exciting narrative. The book was considered a translation of a 1529 Italian manuscript written in Naples, until Walpole revealed that it was actually his own fictional novel. This turned out to be a mistake on his part—after his revelation, the people started to turn on the book, criticizing it for its frivolous storytelling and one-dimensional characters. Nonetheless, The Castle of Otranto remains to be one of the most influential works of fiction in literature.

The Plot

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528

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...

(The entire section contains 1628 words.)

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Critical Essays