Gothic Fiction: The Representation of Evil in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.
The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 novel written by Horace Walpole. It is regarded as the first Gothic novel, initiating a new literary genre which became extremely popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Gothic literature’s desire to explore the unknown, the unexplainable, inexplicable and the terrifying can be seen as a reaction to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the rational and knowable. The Enlightenment rejected the belief in superstition, and religion. Reason, deductive logic, and observation were the methods of examining the world. A clash of these two approaches is noticeable in Otranto. The novel violates 18th century standard of polite culture and proportion, which results in its being so popular among Walpole’s contemporaries, and is a source of different interpretations for modern readers.
Evil is an important part of the book, it is presented in the actions of the main character of the novel, Manfred. The atmosphere of the setting can also be described as evil. Rosemary Jackson claims that evil can be examined from two perspectives: one: rational, and second-using supernatural elements to explain something. The former represents the Enlightenment, the latter-medieval ‘Dark Ages.’ Jackson writes: “[E]vil is caused by some otherworldly demonic force, coming from outside the human, or evil is caused because of the manifestation of human unconscious desire”(52). It depends on the reader what approach to choose for their understanding of the novel. The situation is complicated by the fact that evil connected with setting, especially the castle, is a result of some supernatural spirits, while evil connected with Manfred comes from himself and his hidden desires.
The central theme of all Gothic novels is the presence and symbolism of the Gothic castle. Depiction of ruinous abbeys, monasteries, subterranean passages, vaults, secret panels, and the trapdoors is a standard method of achieving the atmosphere. Howells sees the Gothic castle as being ‘a shadowy world of ruins and twilight scenery lit up from time to time by lurid flashes of passion and violence ’(6). Therefore, the gloominess of the exterior and interior environment is illuminated by intense emotional and passionate moments of the characters that inhabit the castle. As Sage claims, the castle is ‘the lair of the villain’(166), and it is an accurate reflection of his dark and frightening character. Gloomy, dark, and dangerous, the castle reflects the emotions and psychological experience of many of the novel’s characters.
The setting in Otranto is almost a character in the novel. The castle, with its ghosts, bleeding statues, the images of giant hands, and feet, and the helmet that crush the walls, spurs on much of...