Thursday, May 13, 2010

343. The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

History: Published in 1764, It is generally regarded as the first gothic novel, initiating a literary genre which would become extremely popular
Plot: The Castle of Otranto tells the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Shortly before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls on him from above. This inexplicable event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy that "That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it." Manfred, terrified that Conrad's death signals the beginning of the end for his line, resolves to avert destruction by marrying Isabella himself while divorcing his current wife Hippolita, who he feels has failed to bear him a proper heir. However, as Manfred attempts to marry Isabella, she escapes to a church with the aid of a peasant named Theodore where Manfred cannot touch her. Manfred orders Theodore's death while talking to the Friar Jerome, who ensured Isabella's safety in the church. When Theodore removes his shirt to be killed, Jerome recognizes a marking below his shoulder and identifies Theodore as his own son. Jerome begs for his son's life, but Manfred says that Jerome must either give up the princess or his son's life. They are interrupted by a trumpet and the entrance of knights from another kingdom who want to deliver Isabella. This leads the knights and Manfred to race to find Isabella first. Theodore, having been locked in a tower by Manfred, is freed by Manfred's daughter Matilda. He races to the underground church and finds Isabella. He hides her in a cave and blocks it to protect her from Manfred and ends up fighting one of the mysterious knights. Theodore badly wounds the knight, who turns out to be Isabella's father, Frederic. With that, they all go up to the castle to work things out. Frederic falls in love with Matilda and he and Manfred begin to make a deal about marrying each other's daughters. Manfred, suspecting that Isabella is meeting Theodore in a tryst in the church, takes a knife into the church, where in fact, Matilda is meeting Theodore. Thinking his own daughter is Isabella, he stabs her. Theodore is then revealed to be the true prince of Otranto and Matilda dies, leaving Manfred to repent. Theodore becomes king and eventually marries Isabella because she is the only one who can understand his true sorrow.
Review: There is no doubt that Manfred mistreats the women in his life, in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. When Conrad dies, he demands a divorce from Hippolita, and then tells Isabella that he will marry her to produce an heir, no matter what she wishes. This is a vile act on Manfred’s part, as Hippolita has just watched her son die, and Isabella has lost her future husband. Manfred lowers himself even further as Matilda (analysis of her character is can be found here) is traded away in an attempt to win the hand of Isabella.
there are three very different relationships between fathers and their children and the way in which the fathers react when their children are endangered. Manfred the King is Conrad’s father, however, when Conrad is crushed beneath the giant helmet, Manfred is too worried about finding another heir to mourn Conrad’s death. However, when Father Jerome works diligently to save Theodore from certain death at Manfred’s hand, only to be rewarded in the end with the knowledge that Thomas is actually Manfred’s son.
Opening Line: “Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda.
Closing Line: But Theodore's grief was too fresh to admit the thought of another love; and it was not until after frequent discourses with Isabella of his dear Matilda, that he was persuaded he could know no happiness but in the society of one with whom he could for ever indulge the melancholy that had taken possession of his soul.
Quotes: “Fredric accepts Matilda’s hand, and is content to wave his claim, unless I have no male issue”-as he spoke those words, three drops of blood fell from the nose of Alfonso’s statue.”
"The gentle maid, whose hapless tale,
these melancholy pages speak;
say, gracious lady, shall she fail
To draw the tear a down from thy cheek?"
Rating: Not good.

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