The Gothic elements expressed in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto were so new and controversial during the Romantic period that it caused an extreme rise in reputation amongst Romantic writers and readers, creating a ground-breaking genre that would remain popular within entertainment today. These literary elements, alongside the turning of a literary age and the unofficial fight for recognition between the Romantic and Gothic writers, were the key turning points that would maintain the Gothic’s literary form within history. By reviewing Walpole’s work, it can be seen where the Gothic genre was born and what elements from this writing has trickled down to the modern day.
In the first edition of The Castle of Otranto, Walpole writes in the Preface that it was the translated work of an Italian novel found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in northern England (4). Yet, when the second edition of this work was published, Walpole had changed the preface to the story, calling it “A Gothic Story”, making it the “first” of its genre (Watt, 12). It is believed however, that “Walpole constructed the Gothic as a form of private and recreational class property, to which he was able to lay claim because of the status he had forged for himself as a licensed risk-taker” (Watt, 13). This status is mostly prominent due to the renovations he made on his estate, Strawberry Hill, in which Walpole’s interests in the Gothic led him to recreate his estate in a style incorporated with the use of towers and buttresses, making it closely resemble that of a medieval castle (Watt, 15-16). These cultural “risks” were only the beginning for Walpole, for several years after Strawberry Hill was built, Walpole released the first edition of The Castle of Otranto.
While there is no set definition of “gothic”, there are certain literary elements that, when incorporated into any story, make for the Gothic form. Some elements are, but not limited to , “medieval and southern-European setting, haunted castles with subterranean passages and dungeons, mysterious disappearances or events, a gloomy and foreboding atmosphere, evil villains, and supernatural phenomenon that evoke emotions of terror and horror … ” (Thompson, 1). If one were to analyze these elements and compare them to that of Walpole’s work, more than a sufficient amount of examples can be found. Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, is the story of Manfred, a Prince who is determined to replenish his lineage and keep an established reign of power due to the fear of an ancient prophecy that risked the loss of his lordship. Filled with mysterious deaths, supernatural visitors, and dueling patriarchs, the elements within this story create the foundation of the Gothic genre.
It can be seen within Walpole’s writings the true feelings of fear that were struck into the heart of the characters, like in this excerpt in response to the vision of a giant in armor; “For Heaven’s sake, my dear, good Lord… do not go to...