Four Gothic Novels - Horace Walpole
Macabre and melodramtic, set in haunted castles or fantastic landscapes, Gothic tales became fashionable in the late eighteenth century with the publi...
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Review of "Four Gothic Novels - Horace Walpole"
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This is a book I've had in my collection for quite some time. It was actually part of my university reading list when I studied English Literature many years ago. I have kept hold of it because I enjoy rereading it and I also enjoy reigniting the memories of first discovering these four amazing novels along with my friends.This volume contains four different novels which can be categorised as being 'Gothic' in style. The publisher describes the Gothic novel as being "extreme and sensational' whilst also suggesting that the four novels were published together because each is a "psychological story of isolation and monomania".
The first novel contained in the volume is 'The Castle Of Otranto' by Horace Walpole which was originally published in 1764. Although this is the first piece which is printed in the volume there is no need to read each piece in order. You can certainly choose whichever story takes your fancy first. This particular piece is a rather short story which was actually regarded as being the first Gothic novel. It is said to have inspired many other authors to write their own Gothic novels and it also spawned a huge interest in the genre. Walpole himself was actually deeply obsessed with anything medieval and he deliberately wrote in an archaic style when he penned this novel.There are several potential sources of influence for the story of 'The Castle Of Otranto'. One idea is that the tale was inspired by the Duke of Northumberland. Another suggests that the life of Manfred of Sicily was an influence on the tale. Walpole's link to Shakespeare is also undeniable since he draws upon some key elements from Shakespeare's plays such as a focus on bloodlines, nobility and Catholicism and presents his own take on these subjects. The structure of 'Otranto' is also linked to Shakespeare's works, most notably to 'Hamlet'.
The novel tells the story of Manfred who is the lord of the castle of Otranto. He is actually the antagonist of the novel who wants to pursue a younger woman and end his current marriage in order to escape an ancient prophecy from ending his family's reign. The woman he wishes to pursue is actually due to be married to his son but in the beginning of the novel this tragic son is killed on his wedding day. It's actually a rather unintentionally funny part of the story and one that most modern readers will find inexplicable and amusing. If you can get past this section the remainder of the novel is rather thrilling with lots of creepy supernatural elements at play. It's a fun and pacy novel which is thrilling because it is quite over the top by today's standards in terms of the plot and the drama.The second novel in the piece is William Beckford's 'Vathek' which was published in English in 1786. It's probably my least favourite of the novels included here simply because it is more difficult to relate to the situations and to the characters. This is a novel which was written to incorporate popular Gothic elements with an Oriental theme. Apparantly, Europe was undergoing an immense interest in the Orient at this time so the merging of these elements or ideas proved to be very popular amongst readers. The novel focuses on the Caliph Vathek who rejects Islam and instead decides to invoke supernatural forces in order to gain power and glory. The story deals with ideas about religion, prophecies, personal responsibility and societal structure. It has a lot of fantastical elements which link into religious myths. I personally struggle with some of the character names and in trying to place them into the story as I'm reading.
The third novel in this collection is Matthew Lewis's 'The Monk' which was published in 1796. The story is an incredibly dark and convoluted story about love and lust and involving characters drawn from religious quarters. There are some pretty horrific scenes in the novel, even by the standards of our society today, and I find some parts of the novel quite disgusting and disturbing to read. The novel includes instances of rape, incest and murder and alludes to horrific supernatural experiences too. It's definitely dark and shocking and it feels to me like a novel that many modern readers might relate to quite strongly. The language style in this novel is perhaps the easiest to access of all the novels in the collection.The last novel in the set is Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' which was published in 1818. This is a masterpiece in storytelling and the author an expert in creating mood and meaning throughout the piece. I'm sure many people today will be familiar with the story in which a young student creates a creature made up of body parts he has collected and reanimated. It's a distressing and sometimes depressing story which once experienced can not be forgotten. Although it definitely deserves a place in this collection it feels much more modern than the other novels. Perhaps this is simply because the story is much more familiar than those of the other novels.
In conclusion, I very much recommend 'Four Gothic Novels' as it is a great collection of high quality literature which I believe will enthrall fans of this genre. I have an Oxford University Press Paperback version which originally cost £7.99 although the collection can be purchased for less than this via marketplace sellers on Amazon.
Product Information : Four Gothic Novels - Horace Walpole
Manufacturer's product descriptionMacabre and melodramtic, set in haunted castles or fantastic landscapes, Gothic tales became fashionable in the late eighteenth century with the publication of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764).
Genre: Classics, Horror
Title: Four Gothic Novels
Author: Horace Walpole
Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks
Listed on Ciao since: 12/06/2009