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Gothic Novel

The birth of the wildly popular and incredibly successful genre known as the Gothic Novel is most
often traced back to 1765 and the publication of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. The Gothic
novel typically engages in a specific set of conventions in order to explore the subconscious
archetypal fears. These gothic conventions-most of which were originated in Walpole's The Castle of
Otranto, include things like castles or large mansions, often decaying in order to portray the decay of
humanity. In addition, the other overwhelming tone of a gothic story is one of doom, dread, fear and
trembling.

ELEMENTS OF GOTHIC LITERATURE:


setting (castle, often decaying in order to portray the decay of humanity basement,
monastery, labyrinth, cemetery)
rough, sometimes dangerous landscapes such as jagged cliffs or foggy moors
atmosphere mystery and suspense
ancient prophecy, portents, visions
supernatural and other unexplainable events, often involving ghostly apparitions
high emotions
passionate, headstrong men
women in distress
women threatened by male
metonymy (rain, fog, gloom, darkness)
life & death
revenge
past & inheritance
Of course, many of these elements were also what made the types of stories known as Romances very
popular as well.
ELEMENTS OF ROMANCE
powerful love
unreturned love
uncertainty in reciprocation
tension between true love and father's control
lovers parted
rivals
The principal aim of the Gothic Novel was to evoke chilling terror by exploiting mystery and horror
in both atmosphere and events
Origins of the Gothic Genre
When dealing with a genre of novels designated 'Gothic', it seems appropriate to first try to define
the meaning of that word, of Gothic. In her thesis on Ann Radcliffe and Gothic fiction, Linda R.
Koenig examines the word Gothic, and arrives at the conclusion that it has a somewhat complicated
history. The word is believed to originate from a Germanic tribe which once invaded England. This
tribe was actually the Jutes, but was mistakenly identified with the Goths by 17th century
antiquarians, and ultimately, in the 18th century, Gothic came to mean essentially everything that was
of Germanic origin. Gothic was often associated with things that were barbaric, uncouth and rude but,

interestingly enough, it also became associated with parliamentary rights, as ancient records seemed
to point at the Goths as the ones who introduced what later developed into the tradition of British
liberty and democracy. This positive connotation later extended to include aesthetic matters,
especially at the architectural scene, in which the Gothic buildings were believed to display a soaring
freedom from the strict neo-classical ideals.
Gothic could be seen as a reaction to the Enlightenment and its ideas. This age of reason had
brought in its wake an air of confusion. Rationalism had even displaced religion as the means through
which to explain the universe, the social world and supernatural phenomena. Gothic works, with their
disturbing ambivalence, therefore lend themselves as instruments which could be used in an attempt
to explain and debate that which the Enlightenment had left unexplained.
Graveyard Poetry
Another explanation could be the fact that the new genre already had a predecessor in the so-called
Graveyard Poetry. The Graveyard poets were inspired by potential conceptions of the Gothic,
especially the shadows. The shadows marked the limits "[...] necessary to the constitution of an
enlightened world and delineated the limitations of neo-classical perceptions".[7] The darkness was
the adversary to the light, the light of reason, in the way that it, metaphorically, was threatened by that
which the light did not acknowledge. The Graveyard Poetry was popular in the first half of the 18th
century and the poetic objects were, apart from graves and churchyards, synthesised from elements
like; night, death, ruins, ghosts and everything else that would be considered irrational, and thus
excluded, by the rational culture of the Enlightenment.
The Gothic Novel : The Castle of Otranto
Horace Walpole, who is usually considered as the father of the Gothic Novel, or Gothic fiction, did
not use the term Gothic himself, when he introduced his novel The Castle of Otranto (henceforth
Otranto) in 1764. This should, perhaps, not come as any surprise, as the term a Gothic Story had
presumably not yet been invented. But it is quite interesting to note, then, how, in a review of
Walpole's novel in the Monthly Review from February 1765, a critic speaks of the absurdities of
Gothic fiction,which must indicate that the term was already in use at the time when the first edition
of Otranto was released. On the facsimile of the original title page of the first edition of Otranto, one
can see that it is only titled a Story. When the second edition was released, however, this had been
changed to a Gothic Story. It would be quite tempting to presume that Walpole 'borrowed' the
expression from the critics, as he does apparently not try to claim the right to the term of a Gothic
Story, though he in his second preface readily enough proclaims himself inventor of a new genre. He
does, in fact, not mention the word Gothic. Instead, he reveals in the second preface to his novel, the
often quoted lines that his intention was to write a novel that ...
" was an attempt to blend two kinds
of romance, the ancient and the modern. In the former all was imagination and improbability; in the
latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with success."
One of the things that Horace Walpole tried to do with The Castle of Otranto was to separate and
remove it from the realm of life, The Castle of Otranto was, then an attempt at introducing a new
brand of realism that no longer depended on accurate reportage of common life but rather reacting to
the regressive realities of an earlier age.
There is a preface to Walpole's novel that tries to trick the reader into thinking that the book he is
reading was originally written during the Dark Ages. In this time period, the setting of the The Castle
of Otranto, a realistic novel would have included the unquestioned belief in "miracles, visions,
necromancy, dreams and other preternatural events". Walpole goes on to further delineate his
intentions when he writes "if this air of the miraculous is excused, the reader will find nothing else
unworthy of his perusal." He is staking the claim that realism in the novel is in portraying an accurate

reflection of the culture of its time, a culture built upon superstition. Walpole ultimate goal was to
create characters that thought, spoke and behaved in ways that the normal, average person would do if
faced with the same spectacular situations. He wanted nothing less than to remove realism from the
sphere of the purely mimetic and project it onto the imaginative.
Walpole's novel was conceived in a time in which the novel was supposed to be realistic. The
'New novel', was expected to reflect the new enlightened society and thus be educational. It is likely
to believe that Walpole found this perception of the novel rather dull, when he consequently chose to
blend the genres of the old romance and the new novel. One could say that it was a combination of the
marvellous and the realistic; a combination in which the characters would respond in a realistic and
believable way to the unrealistic circumstances. In Walpole's own words:
"The author of the following pages thought it possible to reconcile the two kinds. Desirous of
leaving the powers of fancy at liberty to expatiate through the boundless realms of invention, and
thence of creating more interesting situations, he wished to conduct the mortal agents in his drama
according to the rules of probability; in short, to make them think, speak, and act, as it might be
supposed mere men and women would do in extraordinary positions." This basic theory of
reconciliation was advocated by several of Walpole's contemporary Gothic writers, and was echoed in
a critical remark from Clara Reeve, who wrote in the preface to her novel, The Old English Baron that
her aim had been to try to " unite the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the romance and
novel
The Castle of Otranto begins with the prophecy: The castle and lordship of Otranto should
pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it. The
prophecy can be interpreted in the following way - the rightful heir is now old enough to serve as
king. In that case elements of the castle are literally becoming too large. Helmet, foot, sword could
present parts of the rightful heir. A Freudian reading based on the 'uncanny' proved quite applicable as
well, shifting the focus to themes not identified hitherto. This analysis probed the origins of the
emotionally sublime so central to the Gothic genre, tracing its ancestry to the psychoanalytical
concept of repression and projection. In this view, the House of Otranto ultimately collapses, just as
the prophecy goes, because "... the real owner has grown too large to inhabit it". The "real owner", the
giant, here being the ever growing Repression, feeding on the unrelenting denial of sexuality and
feelings; these representing all those things scorned by the split Enlightened society. This theme
proved to be very central in Otranto, and the uncanny can thus be seen as an agent of the veiled
critical voices of the time.
Concerning the Habermarsian reading, it demonstrated how the situation of the newly
Enlightened society - populated as it was, by the new 'race' of the burghers (bourgeois) - was really not
the balanced, liberated society its own ideology dictated. Looking at the 'ideal' nuclear family as an
image of society as a whole, the inherent separation of spheres forged a movement away from the
previously feudal society, in which the family was unified in one single sphere. With the new
structure, the family would find itself inside sharply defined, isolated spheres, with the patriarchal
authority moving primarily in the social and public spheres (hence, losing contact with the private
sphere), whereas the woman became entirely incarcerated within the private sphere. Otranto is
believed to display a clear critique of this separation of spheres, by demonstrating how a patriarch out
of touch with his private sphere, is capable of bringing down his own house; the house, in this case,
symbolising society. By creating an exaggerated parody of the contemporary times, Walpole thus
alerted the reader to what he considered an unreasonable and untenable societal situation.This idea is
quite obvious and understandable at the end of the novel, when Theodore was persuaded he could
know no happiness but in the society of one with whom he could forever indulge the melancholy that
had taken possession of his soul. The end of the novel echoes the words said in previous chapter We
are all reptiles, miserable, sinful creature.

Conclusion
Part of the genesis of The Castle of Otranto was, then an attempt at introducing a new
brand of realism that no longer depended on accurate reportage of common life but
rather reacting to the regressive realities of an earlier age.
Walpole is staking the claim that realism in the novel is in portraying an accurate
reflection of the culture of its time, a culture built upon superstition.
The goal was to create characters that thought, spoke and behaved in ways that the
normal, average person would do if faced with the same spectacular situations.
He wanted nothing less than to remove realism from the sphere of the purely mimetic
and project it onto the imaginative
The plot : The Castle of Otranto tells the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family.
The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Shortly before
the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls on him from above.
This inexplicable event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy "That the castle and
lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too
large to inhabit it." Manfred, terrified that Conrad's death signals the beginning of the end for his line,
resolves to avert destruction by marrying Isabella himself while divorcing his current wife Hippolita,
who he feels has failed to bear him a proper heir. However, as Manfred attempts to marry Isabella, she
escapes to a church with the aid of a peasant named Theodore where Manfred cannot touch her.
Manfred orders Theodore's death while talking to the Friar Jerome, who ensured Isabella's safety in
the church. When Theodore removes his shirt to be killed, Jerome recognizes a marking below his
shoulder and identifies Theodore as his own son. Jerome begs for his son's life, but Manfred says that
Jerome must either give up the princess or his son's life. They are interrupted by a trumpet and the
entrance of knights from another kingdom who want to deliver Isabella. This leads the knights and
Manfred to race to find Isabella first. Theodore, having been locked in a tower by Manfred, is freed by
Manfred's daughter Matilda. He races to the underground church and finds Isabella. He hides her in a
cave and blocks it to protect her from Manfred and ends up fighting one of the mysterious knights.
Theodore badly wounds the knight, who turns out to be Isabella's father, Frederic. With that, they all
go up to the castle to work things out. Frederic falls in love with Matilda and he and Manfred begin to
make a deal about marrying each other's daughters. Manfred, suspecting that Isabella is meeting
Theodore in a tryst in the church, takes a knife into the church, where in fact, Matilda is meeting
Theodore. Thinking his own daughter is Isabella, he stabs her. Theodore is then revealed to be the true
prince of Otranto and Matilda dies, leaving Manfred to repent. Theodore becomes king and eventually
marries Isabella because she is the only one who can understand his true sorrow.