This traditionally endearing tale, The Castle of Otranto, is often regarded as “the first Gothic novel”, and was thus incredibly influential to the works of Bram Stoker, Ann Radcliffe and Edgar Allan Poe. It introduced a style that was to become tremendously popular with authors and readers alike, in the late 18th and early 19th Century.
When Manfred, the prince of the castle, discovers his only son and heir to his throne, has been mysteriously killed on the day of his wedding, he fears that this signifies the end of his line. Flying into a tempestuous rage, Manfred decides to cast aside his wife who is incapable of bearing him any more sons, in order to pursue his dead son’s bride-to-be, the beautiful and chaste Isabella. Unsurprisingly, Isabella is horrified at Manfred’s proposal so flees his imperious clutches, and hides in the ‘subterraneous passages’ of the castle. A wild goose chase to return Isabella to the evil Manfred ensues. Of course, there is light at the end of the labyrinth and in true romantic style, the villain is forced to repent and the pure young woman falls into the arms of her Prince Charming.
Everything you would expect to find in an early piece of Gothic writing is there; the labyrinths of darkness, the hero and the villain, and the swooning damsels. An enjoyable, albeit predictable, read.