In response to the question “is gothic literature purely escapist? ” considering Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Walpole’s novel The Castle of Ontranto, which is recognized as pretty much establishing the genre, the answer is yes. Castle of Ontranto Brief Plot summary The plot of Castle begins full tilt as Conrad, son of Manfred of house Otranto, is crushed by a giant helmet on his wedding day, also his birthday. Because of the marriage’s political connections, Manfred decides to divorce his wife, Hippolita, and marry Conrad’s betrothed, Isabella.
Amid speculations about an “ancient prophecy” claiming “That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it,” Manfred’s second union is disrupted by a series of supernatural events involving many oversized limbs, ghosts, mysterious blood, and a true prince (Wikipedia). Castle of Ontranto represents the quintessential Gothic story. It created the genre. Key examples of this can be seen as follows:
1 Note: that Gothic literature is escapist through the use of contrasting specific elements to create conflict and draw the attention of the reader.
(the main themes most common in these two novels are: horror vs romance, good vs evil, and the element of mystery basically the known vs the unknown. ) The Castle of Ontranto opens with the line “Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda (chp1).
” This is a very fantastic scenario from the main character being a Prince to the daughter being a beautiful eighteen year old virgin in an era when many women in prestigious families were married off by the age of 14. The author goes on to point out how the son Conrad three years younger than Matilda is ugly sickly frail and pale. The act of immediately contrasting Conrad’s ugly sickliness with Matilda’s beauty and pure virginity, significantly defines the gothic genre, which is literally defined as “an important genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance.
” -Another important contrast other than horror and romance is good and evil. This can be seen in Walpole’s novel through the differences in the characters. The Castle of Otranto” revolves around a curse that has been placed upon the family of Manfred, ruler of the principality of Otranto. The curse is slightly ill defined, but apparently threatens the end of Manfred’s rule and destruction of his family. Manfred is a greedy man who plots and schemes to outwit this curse.
He is clearly the villain of the novel and contrasts strongly with the three leading women, Hippolita his wife, Matilda his daughter and Isabella the intended wife of his son. These women represent the forces of good throughout the novel. NOTE: Heroines in gothic books as well as in contemporary horror is a common theme a major example of this being emphasized in Northanger abbey can be seen when Austen says,
“Chapter 1 – But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventfuly lives. ” (page 9) NOTE: examples of Romance as a theme in Northanger Abbey “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love. ” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey “In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes. “ Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, 1818