The Castle of Otranto

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The Castle of Otranto

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1alaudacorax
Editat: set. 20, 2011, 9:43am

Why I created this thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/115964#2939435

Edited to warn that there may be SPOILERS in this thread.

2LipstickAndAviators
set. 20, 2011, 7:58am

Like I said elsewhere when this group started, overly (melo)dramatic for me, almost theatrical. It was obviously inspired by several plays though so it makes sense. I feel the supernatural elements were rather tacked onto the story and that it might have been a better (if less shocking) narrative without them.

It's definitely an interesting read though.

I had a similar trouble reading this is as reading early high fantasy books, I'm not sure what has become cliché SINCE or even BECAUSE of this book and what was already cliché at the time.

I think if you;re reading it from a historical perspective then it's a good read, but as a story it's pretty flawed. At least it's short? It's the sort of book that I enjoyed and felt rather guilty for enjoying it.

3alaudacorax
Editat: des. 15, 2011, 6:45am

A bit of background: I've been a fan of the genre since I was a youngster but it's only since I've joined this group that I've attempted to get to grips with the lit.crit. on the Gothic and I'm finding it a quite complex and, even, 'elusive' subject. As a part of this I've decided to read or re-read all the novels listed in 'Key Works' in Punter and Byron's The Gothic (that's the 'Blackwell's Guide' one, but the Touchstone never works for it - ETA - it does work, but I've been stupidly slow at figuring out how to work it!).

So, last night, I read, for the first time, The Castle of Otranto - the first of the list and, of course, iconic as the 'first ever' Gothic tale and starting-point of the genre.

First of all, I must say that I found it delightful (and was pleasantly surprised at what easy reading it was for a mid-eighteenth-century work) - thoroughly enjoyed it - but ...

I was quite surprised - very surprised, in fact - to find it quite devoid of any real horror or menace or 'creep factor'. I found it less Edgar Allen Poe or Algernon Blackwood (for examples) than 'shaggy dog story'. Searching around for comparisons, I found it resembled nothing so much as the tales of the Knights of the Round Table or the Arabian Nights that I had as a child. These were quite ancient even then, certainly dating no later than the nineteenth century, and with pre-Raphaelite-style illustrations, so they were more William Morris-style antiquarianism than modern-type children's book (I've totally failed to track down what editions they were - despite a lot of trying over the last couple of years).

Of course, when I thought of it in that light, I realised that was exactly what Walpole said he'd intended - a medieval-style tale.

So I now find myself floundering a bit. I think I've elsewhere in this group criticised M. R. James, for example, for not being scary; now I find that the stories I was looking at, with their 'fantastical' but not necessarily scary elements, are actually slap-bang firmly in the tradition of Walpole's 'Otranto', the foundation of the genre. Now I'm suspecting that I was criticising when it is actually me that hasn't properly got the 'mood' and 'flavour' of the genre. One so often comes across this phrase 'Gothic horror', but is it actually quite misleading about the genre?

I obviously need to do a lot more reading and thinking.

Edited - W. R. James?!

Edited for ambiguity.

4alaudacorax
Editat: set. 20, 2011, 8:48am

#2 - I'm not ignoring you L&A! I've actually been composing that lot above for about an hour and you posted while I was doing that and now I'm seriously late for my lunch.

5LipstickAndAviators
set. 20, 2011, 9:07am

>4 alaudacorax:

Don't worry, I don't feel ignored :P

I don't have much intellgient to say anyway, I'm not feeling well today :(

I have to say though, I don't really expect the gothic tales I read to be scary much of the time. Particularly not the old novels. I just expect them to have thats upernatural element and probably a slightly dark mood.

6housefulofpaper
set. 20, 2011, 1:37pm

When I first read The Castle of Otranto, about 15 years ago, my reaction was similar. I thought it was a slight, silly story with a disappointing denouement. This was really because I was expecting it to be something different from what it was - either creepy (if not scary) or ingenious in some way - in the way that the supernatural elements in The Hound of the Baskervilles are explained in a way that enhances rather than detracts from the pleasure of reading the story.

By chance, I reread it very recently, took it on its own terms and enjoyed it a lot more. Walpole claims that his characters behave naturalistically in the face of the supernatural goings-on (not to mention grief, dynastic politics etc). Manfred is believable as a sub-Shakespearian villain, but other characters are too good to be true - unless you believe that they behave like that because of their noble blood!

7alaudacorax
set. 23, 2011, 5:23pm

#6 - Last night I was reading somewhere or other that the supernatural elements are often felt to be a bit silly and over the top. But I think that hitting the reader right at the start with that giant helmet out of nowhere transported me back to the world of the old folk tales, thus putting me in the mind-frame to be, perhaps, less critical of the characterisation than I would otherwise have been.

Of course, this runs counter to Walpole's introduction's stated object of having more natural and realistic characters than the old folk tales, so I suppose I have to say that I'm not sure the book's popularity was really due to Walpole succeeding in his aims as much as to his failing in them.

8veilofisis
set. 26, 2011, 2:40am

9alaudacorax
set. 26, 2011, 7:02am

Something I thought I mentioned here and haven't is that I couldn't make up my mind whether or not I detected an element of tongue in cheek - I don't mean the Shakespearean comic passages with the 'lower orders'*, I mean in the book in general.

Not at all sure about this - couldn't quite pin it down - and I suspect I may be being misled by the book reminding of The Ingoldsby Legends, which has a strong streak of humour all through it (um - 'have a ... through them'?) And having written that, I immediately wondered whether the latter work might not be gently taking the mickey out of Walpole and his successors. Hah - once you start looking into the genre there's no end to it!

If anyone's wondering why I don't get on and re-read it, it's because I'm working my way through all I've got here about the work before doing so - I deliberately avoided reading this stuff beforehand. Between the extras in my Oxford World's Classics edition and the stuff in my two works on the genre, it actually seems a much larger pile of reading than the text itself! They make this little work carry such a weight on its shoulders!

One of the things that's intriguing me is exactly how original the work was: very few things are really out of the blue - was 'Otranto' (and Strawberry Hill, for that matter)? I'm starting to realise that getting to grips with the context for Walpole's work is probably enough work for a degree course in itself!

* Actually, housefulofpaper's 'sub-Shakespearian' would be a better expression there - I thought them the weakest and least successful parts of the work.

10alaudacorax
oct. 21, 2011, 7:24am

#9 - I couldn't make up my mind whether or not I detected an element of tongue in cheek -

I'm now convinced of it. Assuming that Walpole was more intent on effecting changes to contemporary literature than on creating a great literary work himself, I think that the 'over the top' nature of his supernatural elements - giant helmets crushing heirs and ghosts big enough to pull the sides off castles - was a deliberate piece of mickey-taking; Walpole was cocking a (giant) snook at the 'literary authorities' of the day who said that 'good' literature should contain nothing that couldn't happen in real life.

11housefulofpaper
oct. 7, 2012, 7:10pm

There's a short film of The Castle of Otranto by Jan Svankmajer (there should be an upside-down circumflex or caron over the 'S', but I can't find it on this keyboard).

It dates from 1979 and is less uncompromisingly surreal than much of Svankmajer's work. It takes the form of a spoof TV interview with a Czech academic who claims the events of the novel were true, but actually occurred in a castle in what was then Czechoslovakia (it's interesting to me that these sorts of ideas, like Erich von Däniken's 'God was an Astronaut' or Rennes-le-Château's supposed connection to the bloodline of Jesus, were also in the air on the other side of the 'Iron Curtain').

This live action material is intercut with animated scenes from the novel, acted out by hinged cut-out engravings of the main characters (a technique similar to Terry Gilliam's work on Monty Python's Flying Circus).

The film is available in the UK as part of a 3-disc DVD set of all Svankmajer's short films. It's also on YouTube, but not subtitled:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uJIqb2nGy0

12WeeTurtle
Editat: març 5, 2020, 6:35am

Hey, I can't believe I beat Frahealee here (I think I fixed the spelling)

I just finished *listening* to this last night. I read the first two chapters but the text was so lacking in line breaks and my head not up to staying glued to the page for fear I lose my place on it, that I abandoned the text and ran for youtube. I think it was longer to listen to than to read, but it was easier to follow.

(Kinda spoilery)
Like a few here, I'm still deciding what to make of it. If it were a new story, now, I think I would call it silly. I mean, haunted by giant armoured appendages...and where's the explanation for Alonso growing that big? I do like the curse though. It makes me think of something sinister that's growing unseen, like perhaps the original owner was a concept like pride or greed. Or maybe another Dunwich half-brother.

As the first of it's type though, I think I would put it up with a modern cult flick. I'm not sure how common heritage politics were in books at the time, but considering the lot of it as new, I imagine it not unlike the first Japanese animated movie I ever saw (mid teens, 2 am, not for kids) and the culture shock/fascination that came with it.

13frahealee
març 8, 2020, 5:15pm

Ha! My yakkity yak was on a different thread, likely 'whatcha reading?' section. Might go looking with a flashlight one night to revisit what I said, before contradicting myself here. Glad you ticked it off your fundamental gothic tbr list.