A Castle of one’s own – The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Date published: 1764

In essence: The true heir of Otranto must be found before the castle kills them all.

The reason I love Gothic Horror so much is the space it creates.  Crimson Peak came in for some bashing when it was first released but I will watch it over and over again just for the house.* The house beats all with its cobwebbed corners and shadowed staircases, its loft ceilings and lancet windows.dsc_0255

Who would live in a house like this?

Only a family in disintegration. A family with secrets and passions that simply can’t fit into the real world.  Otranto’s patriarch, Manfred, thinks it’s a good idea to divorce his wife and marry his dead son’s fiancée.  The current Mrs Otranto does not object as much as you would expect.  The fiancée does object and flees to a monastery while Miss Otranto finds it all very disturbing, but she’s a good girl who obeys her father and is far more concerned with the random, yet handsome stranger outside her bedroom window.

The castle itself has very strong opinions on the fact that Manfred should not be in charge at all. It is the grand sire of Crimson Peak’s house, and yet it behaves like a teenager throwing fits of giant-sized armour and terrorising its inhabitants with prophetic ghosts.

“I want the true heir of Otranto back!” Door slams and plate metal rattles. “Now!”

The family remain puzzled, but carry on with their own agendas. The servants seem more inclined to pay attention, and like Hamlet’s Gravedigger offer some light relief.

Tragical-comical?

I found in The Monk that the funny moments sort of made the scary stuff less scary.  To find it happening again in The Castle of Otranto was not as odd.

It made more sense that in The Castle of Otranto because the gothic space was more clearly defined.  The Monk roves about over a whole city while in the claustrophobic confines of the Gothic Castle there is enhanced pressure on a group of people who cannot escape each other. In that setting the comedy did enhance the horror.

Here is a good article that explains it better than me.

More than just scenery

Of all the characters, the castle was my favourite. It wasn’t just window dressing, but had an agency of its own that drove the plot almost as much as Manfred’s desire for unconventional marriage arrangements.  Plus the castle was a lot easier to sympathise with.

This is also a good read if you’re a writer who wants to learn how to use setting to enhance atmosphere.  It’s a brisk read too.

So, I still really love a haunted building, but I think now I am more aware to the responsibility of owning one. Especially if it doesn’t want me to.

This post is part of the Reader’s Imbibing Peril blog hop. There is still time to get your socks scared off. Click here to find out more. The amazing artwork is by Abigail LarsonRIP XI

If you’d like to learn more about Gothic Houses and what they mean, I really recommend this podcast.

*Yes, the house. Not Tom Hiddleston removing his trousers.

Frightfully Funny? -The Monk, by Matthew Lewis

 

RIP XI

 In essence: Ambrosio is very holy monk until he gives into lust, greed and pride. He descends into vice and pretty much screws life up for everyone else. Except Matilda, whose evil plan it may have been all along.

Have you ever finished a book and not known quite what you think of it, or yourself?

I still don’t know what I think of The Monk.

A shopping list of Gothic Horrors.

There was not just rape, but incestuous rape.  Not just one virgin locked in a crypt, but two.  And mere demons weren’t sufficient so Satan himself appeared. Not just once, dear readers, but a multitude of times.

The book was a one stop shop for evil nuns, bloated corpses, skeletons (in crypts and family closets), ineffectual heroes, devils, mob violence, witches and swooning maidens.

Bizarrely, what I really liked were the moments of comedy.  There were, unexpectedly, several.

The old woman convincing herself that the two gallant knights are flirting with her and not her sixteen-year-old charge was expertly done.  Lewis had a great eye for picking out the ridiculousness in people and situations. This is brilliantly demonstrated in his opening scene.

Although enjoyable, those farcical moments also made the excessive horror feel burlesque in some places.  It may have been the eighteenth century language, but it often felt like the characters were deliberately enjoying their own wickedness too much to be taken completely seriously. Or maybe Lewis was.

I kind of enjoyed it too. Mostly.

When ‘n0’ means ‘yes’ and ‘leave me alone’ means ‘drug me and lock me in a crypt.’

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I was conflicted about Ambrosio, the monk of the title.  He’s an abandoned orphan who has known love or society except that found in the monastery. This was all promising start for my tender heart, although Ambrosio’s history makes him easy pickings for the devilish Matilda.

‘Oh look, a woman’s breast. Ok, I’ll sleep with you. Once wont hurt, right?’  

It’s not quite that simple, but once Ambrosio fell he fell fast and hard (*coughs*) and kept declining at a steady pace.

There were moments when Lewis captured Ambrosio’s inner moral wrangling beautifully.  There were other moments when, partly due to cultural differences but mostly because he was a toad, I wanted to beat Ambrosio to death with his own crucifix.

He repulsed me, and what made him truly horrific was his willingness to take advantage of his position of power. Kind of like a religious Littlefinger, but with less charisma.

I hated Ambrosio. Yet, as he launched his lecherous pursuit of Antonia, I turned another page.  And another.

*thunder rolls*

Just as I need to see the credits at the end of a particularly disturbing horror movie, I had to see if this character got his come-uppance.  (No spoilers here. Don’t look at the woodcut.)

Ambrosio’s descent from holier-than-thou to criminal sex fiend and murderer made me think about the gulf that sometimes emerges between who we hope everybody thinks we are, and the person we are capable of becoming given the right pressures. Ambrosio’s one true fear was not that God would find out what he’d done, but that society would.

I can almost sympathise with that. I want to be the person who can read this classic text with appreciation for its context and the moral issues it displays.  It’d also be cool if I could make some witty observations and you would all applaud and leave lots of comments.

Alas, I actually gobbled it up like Catherine Morland, squealing with horrified delight every time Ambrosio crept an inch closer to satisfying his demonic desires.

*lightning strikes*

I would highly recommend this book. I think.If you do choose to read it, I advise wrapping it in a brown paper bag between sittings.

This is a Readers Imbibing Peril post, and there’s still time to get in on the spookiness (until October 31st). It covers books, films and games in the horror (and associated) genres.  The very cool and kooky picture is by Abigail Larson.