The Castle of Otranto


Horace Walpole

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Castle of Otranto can help.
Current Battle Ends 2/28
We'll make guides for February's winners by March 31st—guaranteed.
Current Battle Ends on 2/28/2021
Time Remaining

The Castle of Otranto: The Second Edition Preface Summary & Analysis

Because of the public’s acceptance of the book, Walpole wrote a new preface to the second edition of the novel in which he acknowledges his authorship of Otranto and apologizes for posing as Marshal and Muralto. He claims that he did so because he was uncertain of the public’s reaction, as he was attempting to synthesize for the first time “the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern” — that is, the imaginative fantasy of medieval romance and the realism that had become popular in novels by Walpole’s time. The result, according to Walpole, is the natural actions and feelings of his characters in response to supernatural events.
Now writing under his own name, Walpole claims that his anonymous publication of Otranto was motivated by his wariness of public reaction. Contradicting “Marshall’s” argument that the story’s supernatural elements were to be expected of a medieval author, Walpole’s claim that he is blending medieval and realist genres represents the beginning of his own brand of “Gothic.”
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Walpole then expands on the explanation he gave in the first preface for his presentation of the servants. Defending the contrast between the comic quality of the servants and the serious tone of the rest of the novel, he argues that “[his] rule was nature,” implying that unlike princes, servants do not lead “grave, important, or even melancholy” lives. He further argues that this contrast makes the noble characters more attractive, and their plotlines more engaging.
Whereas in the first preface, Walpole defended the servants’ comicality and naiveté as a matter of plot, here he argues that his representation of the servants was determined by realism and by his desire to make his principal characters more dignified by comparison. By doing so, he simultaneously reinforces class distinctions in genre (where tragedy concerned nobles and comedies often concerned peasants) and exploits his peasant characters for the sake of his noble characters.
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Related Quotes
He uses Shakespeare as his model, highlighting the comic relief provided by lower-class characters from Hamlet and Julius Caesar. Responding to Voltaire’s objection to “this mixture of buffoonery and solemnity,” Walpole claims Shakespeare’s superiority over Voltaire. He also points to a preface from one of Voltaire’s earlier works, Enfant Prodigue, in which the preface author wrote that there is “un mélange de serieux et de plaisanterie” (or, a mixture of seriousness and jest) in comedy. Walpole argues that if such a mixture can exist in comedy, it can also exist in tragedy.
Walpole’s justification for mixing comedy with tragedy is Shakespeare’s own mixing of genres. Criticizing Voltaire for criticizing such practices, Walpole exhibits his nationalist literary pride. By comparing one of England’s most-renowned writers (Shakespeare) with one of France’s (Voltaire), Walpole insinuates the literary superiority of the English over the French. By pointing to the preface of one of Voltaire’s early works as proof of his own genre argument, Walpole further discredits Voltaire’s later criticisms of Shakespeare.
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Though he acknowledges that the author of the preface in Voltaire’s book was actually Voltaire’s editor and not Voltaire himself, he then claims that they – Voltaire and his editor – are in fact the same person, based on one of Voltaire’s previous writings. Walpole then shifts gears, criticizing French poetry in relation to Shakespeare, before telling the reader that he wrote Otranto both as “a new species of romance” and as a faint imitation of Shakespeare: “the brightest genius this country, at least, has produced.”
Though Walpole does not substantiate his claim that Voltaire is the author of Enfant Prodigue’s preface, such a claim further compares Walpole with Voltaire, since Walpole himself was his own editor, or rather “translator,” in disguise. By then criticizing French poetry, by proclaiming Shakespeare’s superiority to Voltaire and his French contemporaries, and by claiming that he is imitating Shakespeare, Walpole is implying that his writing, like Shakespeare’s, is superior to Voltaire and French poetry.
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Get the entire The Castle of Otranto LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Castle of Otranto PDF