Gothic Novel #1
Posted by J.L. on September 07, 1998 at 20:59:57:
Well, readers, as I promised, here's my first little nugget review of the gothic novels I'm reading in my English class at F&M. The first novel we had to read was The Castle of Otranto, the novel that started it all. Published back in 1764, this little yarn (I mean little--it's only about 130 pages, and that's with a forward by the editor, two by the author, and endnotes to explain some of the more archaic phrases) involves a castle which is haunted, a prince struggling to hold onto power, mysterious subterranean passages, dark corridors, ghosts that step out of paintings, giant helmets that crush people to death, and a priest who discovers his long-lost illegitimate son. All in all, it was good to read so we can understand the basis for every other gothic novel that has come since then, from Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights all the way up to more contemporary works that we won't study, like Stephen King and Anne Rice.
Since many of the features of this novel have been used in books and films in the almost 250 years since then, much will probably seem predictable and cliche. The first chapter is well written and captivating, but the remainder of the novel seems like each plot turn is contrived, each bit of foreshadowing made obvious. As for the women, they run the gamut from the prince's wife, who is submissive to the point of having no spine, all the way up to his intended daughter-in-law, who flees the castle because she doesn't want to be married to the prince; she is the strongest female character in the novel, and she still managest to come off like your stereotypical damsel in distress. Lovers of headstrong, independent female characters beware: there are no Lizzy Bennetts, Emma Woodhouses, or Jane Eyres to be found in this book.
As for the structure of the book, it is five chapters long, and the most confusing thing is the lack of quotation marks. I am not sure, but this may have been the writing style in that day. It is all very vexing, though, because you will have a paragraph which takes up a full page, and have six people speaking back to back, with no quotes, no indentations, no nothing to separate one person's statement from another. All in all, I didn't really care for it, nor did anyone else in my class. The teacher did not understand until I put into this context for her: "I have respect for it, because it is the foundation for all other gothic-style works, but when you compare it to something like Dracula, it really loses a lot of its appeal." She still didn't quite follow me, so I tacked this on: "It's the same way with, say, a Flash Gordon film from the 1940s. I admire it because it was one of the first of its kind, and it was a big leap that needed to be taken, but when I compare it with Star Wars, it's a very poor movie, simply because of the many elements that it is lacking compared with a film that came along 30-40 years later, after the style and technique had time to be perfected." Then she got it.
I hope to hear your opinions on Otranto, whether you've read it before, or are just reading it now because of my post here. If you'd like to comment on it, you can either leave it here, or write me at my email address:
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