The Castle of Otranto
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The Castle of Otranto

by Horace Walpole
Release date: 1764
Type: speculative fiction
Genres: fantasy, horrorgothic horror

First published pseudonymously in 1764, "The Castle of Otranto" purported to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades. In it Walpole attempted, as he declared in the Preface to the second edition, "to blend the two kinds of romance: the ancient and the modern". He gives us a series of catastrophes, ghostly interventions, revelations of identity, and exciting contests. Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos, the novel was an immediate success and Walpole's own favourite among his numerous works. His friend, the poet Thomas Gray, wrote that he and his family, having read Otranto, were now "afraid to go to bed o'nights".

On the day of his wedding, Conrad, heir to the house of Otranto, is killed in mysterious circumstances. Fearing the end of his dynasty, his father, Manfred, determines to marry Conrad's betrothed, Isabella, until a series of supernatural events stands in his way...

Set in the time of the crusades, The Castle of Otranto established the Gothic as a literary form in England. With its compelling blend of psychological realism and supernatural terror, guilty secrets and unlawful desires, it has influenced a literary tradition stretching from Ann Radcliffe and Bram Stoker to Daphne Du Maurier and Stephen King.

(updated 2015-01-07)

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