Enter the Gothic

Let me preface this with a great big I’m sorry for not writing for so long!

If it makes you feel any better, since the last time I read/book blogged, I’ve become a certified ESL teacher (which involved 15 hours of student teaching and, like, 60-some hours of training), found and moved into an apartment, and gotten all (read: MOST) of my Visa paperwork filled out. Also I’ve applied to and (sort of) gotten some jobs. So it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing.

Anyway, The Castle of Otranto.

It was really exciting to encounter the origin of Gothic literature. My last semester of college I took an entire class on Gothic literature, so I’m well aware of certain conventions and characteristics. I can’t read Gothic literature (or even anything that resembles Gothic literature, really) without being super aware of them. For example, did you know that there’s a labyrinth near the end of every Harry Potter book? I’ll let you figure them out, but seriously. Gothic.

What surprised me about The Castle of Otranto was how not bizarre and over-the-top it was. When I think Gothic literature, I think The Monk and outrageously surreal situations and everything carried out to the extreme degree. Here I could certainly recognize Gothic elements – Isabella fleeing Manfred through the caves, seeking sanctuary and a life of purity in the monastery, the pure hero Theodore, the supernatural events, desires, etc. However, they weren’t as extreme as I’m used to. I guess this makes sense. Other Gothic writers had a model to follow – this one.

In that way, it was interesting to think about the characters and the construction of the plot. Otranto really is a bridge of sorts between the old fantastical romances of Sir Walter Scott & co. and the new realism. Walpole really did create something that had never been seen before. It’s interesting to think about the direction everyone else took it.

That said, I think that my literary-historical fascination with Otranto was the thing I liked most about it. Otherwise the book itself was sort of underwhelming. The plot wasn’t all that impressive (not a whole lot happened, really) and the characters were just sort of…there. The tension between desires, society, and the supernatural that I’ve come to expect and kind of love about Gothic literature wasn’t there. Really, not a whole lot was there.

Maybe I’m just biased because I was expecting some of the Gothic-ness that I love to hate, but Otranto was missing a little bit of something.

Rating: ***
Up Next: Cranford

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