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The First Horror Novel – The Castle of Otranto


The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 novel by Horace Walpole. It is generally regarded as the first gothic novel, containing classic elements such as madness, unseen violence, supernatural events, melodrama, sexual perversion, and so on. The book tells the story of Manfred, an usurpator, who is about to marry his sickly son to the princess Isabella in a quest to secure his claim to the throne. However as Manfred tries to marry Princess Isabella, she escapes to a church and a number of supernatural events stand in his way.

Manfred confronted by a giant ghost hand.

The book is written in a very Shakespearian style, in the preface to the second edition of Otranto, Walpole praises “Shakespeare as a truly original genius and the exemplar of imaginative liberty, as a part of a defense of Otranto’s design”.
The Castle of Otranto had the same effect as some contemporary books (Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey), altough badly written, it captured the public imagination and spawned an entire movement. H.P. Lovecraft described it as: “tedious, artificial, and melodramatic.”

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