Places: The Castle of Otranto

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1765

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: Thirteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedOtranto

Otranto. Castle of Otranto, TheLarge estate dominated by a castle in Sicily. The massive details of the medieval castle and the rich surrounding territory, ruled by Manfred, prince of Otranto, represent the haunting presence of the past in modern times. Part of the castle’s armament falls on Manfred’s son, crushing him, and the castle itself crumbles to the ground. Through these actions Walpole dramatizes the inescapable burden of the past. This reveals the pressure of the father on the son and the obligation that the younger generation always assumes to forge something new from what the past generations have done. Moving portraits of ancestors in the castle as well as the dungeons, dark chapels, and other hidden recesses in the Gothic architecture also express this nightmare obligation to prevail, to escape, to make something artistically and culturally meaningful. A new Otranto emerges at the end of the story out of the crush of the old in the same way that Walpole’s invention of the gothic novel is forged out of old materials.

*Strawberry Hill

*Strawberry Hill. Real country estate near London that Walpole himself remodeled into a fake, or forged, “Gothic” castle. His new building looked like the fictional castle, but it was constructed out of modern materials of the time rather than medieval stone. Walpole wrote his story in this house following several nights of haunting nightmares that were probably brought on by overwork. His father was the famous prime minister Robert Walpole, so that the weight of the past was felt personally and artistically.

Church of St. Nicolas

Church of St. Nicolas. Otranto church. On the title page of the novel, Walpole identifies this location in the Otranto principality as the place where the original text in Italian was published. This literary hoax, or forgery, is supported by significant front matter written by Walpole about the finding and translation of the medieval story for his English audience. It is all wonderful misplacing, or literary artifice, and as such is a textual equivalent of the artificial and yet genuinely haunting pleasures of the Strawberry Hill estate where, in an adjoining personal printing house, Walpole produced the first edition of the book.

*Holy Land

*Holy Land. Eastern Mediterranean region in which Christianity arose that is the target location for the medieval Crusades. It is also the place where the crushing events that drive the story took place. The exotic East was always of importance in the writing of the eighteenth century.

*Falconara

*Falconara. Sicilian principality that neighbors Otranto in which there is no crushing ancestral pressure. Thus by contrast the civility of this estate expresses the heavy emotionalism of Otranto.

BibliographyDay, William Patrick. In the Circles of Fear and Desire: A Study of Gothic Fantasy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. A study of the themes and conventions of gothic fantasy from the publication of Walpole’s novel up through the twentieth century. Discusses Manfred as an example of the typical gothic male protagonist.Kallich, Martin. Horace Walpole. New York: Twayne, 1971. Discusses the formal style and period-piece conventions of the novel. Suggests a reading of the story as a version of the Freudian family romance, with such Oedipal themes as desire for the mother, anger toward the father, and fear of punishment.Mehrotra, K. K. Horace Walpole and the English Novel. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1934. A detailed discussion of the novel that analyzes the work from the perspective of the readers of its time and places the work in the context of the realistic novel and the tale of terror.Sabor, Peter, ed. Horace Walpole: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987. A valuable collection of reviews, introductions, contemporary discussions, and letters relating to Walpole’s works. Includes eighteen items discussing The Castle of Otranto.Varma, Devendra. The Gothic Flame. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966. A well-known history of the English gothic novel that discusses both the origins and the influences of the genre. Clarifies the various gothic conventions originated by The Castle of Otranto, particularly its surrealistic style and gothic hero.
Categories: Places