Monday 25 February 2013

NaNoReMo - Finished!

At the end of January, I announced that I'd be reading Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto for NaNoReMo. I updated on my progress a couple of weeks ago, and I'm pleased to say I've finished it. I'm glad about this for two reasons; on one hand, I'm glad I finished within the given month, and on the other, it became such a chore to read that I was glad it was finally over when I reached 'The End'.

I'd originally chosen The Castle of Otranto due to its privileged position within the canon of Gothic literature - it's considered by many to be the first gothic novel, and its lineage can be traced through both its literary and cinematic descendants. My copy is only 115 pages long, divided into five chapters, and that is 115 pages of hand wringing, melodramatics, and absolutely no indication of which character is speaking at any given time.

I said in my last update that "I know that storytelling has changed an awful lot in the 249 years since it was published but the novel feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction" and I stand by that. The entire novel is 'told' in the same breathless fashion as a rumour being repeated in a washroom, and the characters never get the opportunity to become anything other than one dimensional stereotypes. Even the villain is devoid of personality.

It's a shame because there is a good idea buried within the story. Manfred, the Prince of Otranto lives in fear that he will lose his principality unless he produces a son, and after his own son is crushed by a giant helmet that appears from nowhere, he contrives to divorce his wife, Hippolita, and marry Isabella, the princess intended for his son. A local peasant, Theodore, continually throws a spanner in the works, especially when he falls in love with Manfred's daughter, Matilda. There is a lot of running to and fro, with characters spending most of them time dashing off to the local convent, or disappearing somewhere to talk to someone else. At the same time, a group of knights arrived, bearing a sabre that matches the helmet that they dug up in the woods, and Manfred's servants see a spectral giant within the castle. The idea of the Prince desperately trying to outrun a prophecy becomes buried beneath the melodrama of the family relationships.

There are subterranean passages, mysterious knights, prophecies, long lost heirs, and intrigue, so this should have been an enthralling read. Later authors have taken these themes and run with them, so perhaps my disinterest in this book comes from an unfair comparison with later works, but I really didn't enjoy reading this at all. I truly envy Helen Howell for reading Dracula for NaNoReMo - now THAT is a gothic classic!


Helen A. Howell said...

Ha Icy, I'm loving reading this classic, I have about 200 pages of the 700 + left to go. I hope I'll make it by the end of the month. This truly has been an easy read and I'm pleased to find, that unlike other classics written in the 1800, this one certainly has a modern feel with a great gothic atmosphere. I will tell all when I finish it.

Tony Noland said...

This is one of the reasons I love to go through museums in chronological order. From the earliest pieces, you can see the traces and foundations of the works that will follow.

It's like following a mighty, rushing river up and up and up through the headwaters all the way to the trickling little spring that starts it all.

I'm almost done with my #NaNoReMo. Will have to blog about it.

John Wiswell said...

Would you consider harvesting the idea you think Otranto squanders? Not necessarily remaking it, but if it inspires, making your own story with a degree of homage?

Icy Sedgwick said...

Helen - I read Dracula years ago; it's one of my favourite books and I envy you for spending your February reading it, while I ended up wading through Walpole!

Tony - It's certainly been an eyeopener seeing where the gothic began, and in that respect the book definitely has value, but in and of itself, I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone.

John - I might, one day. Right now I think I'm still too close to the source text.

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