|The giant helmet from the Castle of Otranto|
The Castle of Otranto
by Hoarce Walpole
Dover Thrift Edition p. 2004
The Castle of Otranto is credited with being the first Gothic Novel. It's important to note just how late in the 18th century The Castle of Otranto was published: 1764 is well into the second half of the 18th century. My recent review of The Mysteries of Udolpho, published April 24th discussed the average number of books produced per year in England in the 18th century:
"A modern estimate of the average annual publication of new books, excluding pamphlets, suggests that an almost fourfold increase occurred during the century; annual output from 1666 to 1756 averaging less than 100, and that from 1792 to 1802, 372." (M. Plant, The English Book Trade, p. 37.)
If The Mysteries of Udolpho (published in 1794) stands on the far side of that rise in publication volume, The Castle of Otranto stands on the other side, when the average number of books published in an entire year was less than 100. What does that mean in terms of Audience reception of the respective works of Gothic Fiction? Most obviously it means that The Mysteries of Udolpho had a larger actual and potential Audience then The Castle of Otranto, and also that Audience members who enjoyed the latter work had most likely read the earlier work since it had been out for 30 plus years.
I remember distinctly that I read The Castle of Otranto book in 2008 and then re-read it in 2009. What I remember about The Castle of Otranto is the fact that it was a Dover Thrift Edition, the most despised of all "Classics" series. Also that the writing style is very "early 18th century" even though the book was published in mid-late 18th century. He could have been trying to evoke an earlier writing style.
There is an aspect of The Castle of Otranto that is "cheesy" or "popular" but I think that is more the result of the consequences of imitation rather then any integral weakness in the "Gothic style." Up until very recently, Gothic influences dominated the "Horror" category and we all know how popular Horror is in film and books. Music, too I suppose, whether it be horror core rap or Norwegian Death Metal.
My observation is that you always need a ghost clanking around in chains:
NOW THAT'S GOTHIC.