First published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto is purported to be an ancient Italian text from the time of the crusades and is a founding work of Gothic fiction. With its compelling blend of sinister portents, tempestuous passions, and ghostly visitations, it spawned an entire literary tradition and influenced such writers as Ann Radcliffe and Bram Stoker.
(P)2006 Blackstone Audio Inc.
"[Walpole] is the father of the first romance and surely worthy of a higher place than any living writer." (Lord Byron)
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"What Did I Just Listen To?"
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that classic books can’t be trash because they are wrong, and this book is proof of that. Being billed as the first gothic horror doesn’t change that in any way. That just means it also has the distinction of being the first terrible gothic horror, as well.
All the elements for a story that could’ve been potentially good are there. It did set the stage for books that would follow in the genre. However, it was just so amazingly absurd that I could only keep reading and see just how much of a mess this turned into. Watching Manfred’s cartoonish descent into madness, his wife’s willingness to set aside all her moral dignity with no compunction for Manfred to obtain his own goals, Matilda (Manfred’s daughter who he was no affection for) and Isabella’s (his son’s bride) childlike friendly rivalry over a guy that’s known them three seconds among other things was just like watching a ruin so completely laughable that you can’t believe someone actually wrote this down. None of these things are executed with the same gloomy, psychologically gripping panache of others who came after Walpole.
Stylistically, if I hadn’t been listening to this novel at the same time I was reading it, it might’ve been a little confusing. Dialogue from various characters are often in one paragraph together without distinction to who was saying what, especially since there were no quotation marks to at least show that different people were speaking in the edition that I had. However, I don’t blame that on Walpole more than I do the publisher who should be aware that something like that can be confusing for readers.
While listening to this book, I kept thinking, “This narrator sounds like the Elder God from the Legacy of Kain series.” Legacy of Kain is one of my all-time favorite gaming series, and sure enough, it’s the same voice. Tony Jay has done many other games, cartoons, and television shows that I recognize his voice from. He does phenomenal work, and while doing some research on him for this review, I found out he passed in 2006. His voice definitely help the story, and while I liked his voice for Manfred, who he voice to sound similar to his Shere Khan, it didn’t help me to stop associating him with a cartoon villain.
The only redeeming thing about this book other than the narrator, and I mean the only thing, was the fact that I’d swear this was like a 1700s version of a trashy talk show episode (think Jerry Springer or Maury Povich) with daughter swapping pacts and “In the case of 19-year-old Theo, YOU ARE THE BABY’S FATHER!” moments. Other than that, this was a shallow book with characters you don’t give one shit about. There was nothing disturbing or particularly compelling about it, and it certainly fit the criticisms of gothic horror in that era being tawdry and ridiculous. In fact, let’s just rename it The Trash of Otranto.
"As for literary history"
This book, like Pamela for feminist literary history, is important due to the fact that it was the first gothic novel ever written. The voice is a good one for the story, deep, reverant, dramatic; the writing is of excellent breed as well. With that said, however, so much has been ripped-off from this novel, and into novels that we've already read, that the story itself comes off as a bit cliche, not to mention ridiculous. Although the hyperbole of the novel is based off sybolic intentions, the best that one can say about this piece is that it lit a torch for future great novels--not that it's so much a great novel on its own two feet. Worty of reading if you care about the history of novels in general, but if you're looking for a great gothic novel this can't be a first choice.
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