The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole


What a difference a dream makes… (singing) 


I’ve just read “The Castle of Otrantoby Horace Walpole for the first time all in one breath this afternoon. This didn’t happen for a long time. The book is compelling, especially at the end, like a thriller, so I just couldn’t stop reading.

Since it’s regarded as the first Gothic Novel, I was expecting a different book somehow, maybe darker, but I liked it the same: ghosts, mysteries, disquieting events and a bit of hidden humour are not missing.

I was first introduced to this title seeing the fascinating exhibition “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination” at the British Library in London back in 2014, the illustrations made in years for the several editions couldn’t have been more intriguing, but for a strange reason I managed to get a copy in a book shop only last December using a birthday gift card. Well, each book for the right time in life!

Even if it was published in 1764, “The Castle of Otranto“ is written in a fresh and not pompous language and there’s no a boring page. A tragedy was going on under my eyes and yet I had the impression that Walpole was making fun of the characters at some point. The atmosphere reminds me a bit of Shakespeare: King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and so on. I don’t mean that he copied them, but I wonder if the writer may have read the Bard’s plays taking inspiration from them.

To me, it has been better to read the book knowing little of the plot, so I don’t want to spoil it to new readers, but I can’t help citing an essential detail which I found intriguing: Walpole pretended to be just the translator of an ancient manuscript he found in Italy the first time he published it. He made an experiment to see the audience’s reaction, which I think impressed him positively.

Two forewords by Walpole himself, written for the first and the second editions, introduce the story to the readers and I felt sympathy for him for having been so imaginative and creative, but later admitting the truth, the rascal! The action taking place around a castle of Southern Italy is exquisitely written and, apart from the supernatural scenes, believable enough to be based on a true story. And thinking that it was inspired by a dream! And I like that, even back to 1700s, Walpole inserted three female characters who show strenght in the novel.

 

Searching on the Web, I found out that there have been just three adaptations of the novel: a surrealist short film, an audio book and a BBC radio play. I wish there would be more, a stage version would be perfect, for instance. I have an ideal cast in mind already. That’s why I put my first attempt at book reviewing on my blog on Performing Arts.

 

I have something in common with “Horace”: the passion for Gothic architecture and style, plus I often dream of ancient buildings that sound familiar to me, whose rooms and stairs suddenly change without a reason and weird things happen. I never finish those dreams, with my regret. I should write them down in a novel, too, what do you think?

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