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Critical Analysis Of A Passage From Horace Walpole's Castle Of Otranto

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Autor:   •  July 9, 2011  •  971 Words (4 Pages)  •  802 Views

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Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, is acknowledged by many as the first gothic novel. It was the first of it’s kind and many of the conventions used by Walpole, which put it in a literary genre of it’s own, were continued by authors such as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. Many of these defining characteristics can be seen within the very first few pages of the text and for the purposes of this essay, to identify some of these conventions used and the relevance of this text to modernity I shall focus this analysis on the passage between pages twenty-four and twenty-six from the Oxford World’s Classics edition.

The gothic novel emerged during the late eighteenth century and the �Age of Enlightenment’, which emphasised rationality and reason, and the gothic, in many ways, acts in a way of shadowing the progress of modernity and as an opposition to modern enlightenment ideas with its lawless rebellion against unity and order. Rational therefore, is not a word which one would associate with the Gothic. One of the best examples of this would be the presence of super natural beings, spectres and visions, which become very prominent in early gothic novels and began with Walpole. In these three pages alone, we see many strange phenomena occurring: the moving helmet that had previously caused the death of Conrad, a sighing ancestral portrait and a ghostly apparition. Extremely irrational and unbelievable I’m sure you’ll agree, and especially in such a short space of time, one supernatural event is barely over before another begins. The main purposes of these supernatural forces are to enhance the imagination and create fear, both within the characters and within the readers. Fear is one of the oldest and most powerful of emotions and one that has a strong presence in all gothic novels. It could be described as the fuel of all gothic novels and provides the illicit thrills for the reader, when they come down to the level of the characters and allow themselves to delve deep into their imaginations and immerse themselves in the fear the characters are feeling and leave behind all logic and rationality.

In Otranto, Walpole challenges his societies views of modernity and transgresses social laws by introducing the theme of incest into his novel with Manfred preying of his deceased son’s betrothed, Isabella. This brings into play three defining features which became prevalent within gothic novels of the late eighteenth century: women in distress; women being threatened by powerful males; and the major theme of fear and in this example, specifically female fear. Isabella, a young, virginal woman becomes “half dead with fright” when faced with potential rape and becoming a spoiled woman at the hands of the powerful and threatening Manfred. Such suggestions, by Walpole’s age were seen as scandalous and caused moral outrage, a thread that was carried through the gothic genre. This new genre may have provided for many, an escape from the rigid world of enlightenment. It brought to them a world of imagination and allowed them to immerse themselves in a world which had been morally forbidden and they could do it from the privacy of their own homes, allowing their indulgence, and perhaps, immoral thoughts to go unnoticed, providing a way for the darkness and immoral thoughts to come alive outside of the novel. At the end of the novel however, society’s moral ideals surface as Manfred retires to a convent after the realisation of his sins and order is restored. In this way, although Walpole is exposing his readers to these ideas, he would appear himself to


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