A recurring element in The Castle of Otranto is the female characters’ absolute devotion to their husbands and fathers. For example, despite her husband’s temper and repeated rejections of her, Hippolita is entirely devoted to Manfred. Even when presented with Manfred’s sins, betrayals, and intention to marry their ward and former daughter-in-law-to-be Isabella, Hippolita passively agrees to Manfred’s demand for a divorce and refuses to acknowledge Manfred’s wrongdoing. Both Matilda and Isabella are instilled with a “dreadful obedience” to her parents. Though she is in love with Theodore, Matilda is nearly forced into a marriage with Isabella’s father, while Isabella unhappily agrees to a marriage with Conrad because she believes her father arranged the engagement. However, when Isabella begins to pray to heaven to avoid marriage with Manfred, Hippolita stops her, claiming that her father should have the final say. By doing so, Hippolita, though extremely pious, implicitly assumes that a woman’s prayers to divinity are not or should not be as important as the commands of one’s father or husband. Hippolita even goes so far as to claim, “It is not ours to make election for ourselves: heaven, our fathers, and our husbands, must decide for us.” Hippolita’s belief in such a male-dominated worldview suggests that women have no agency of their own; all of their decisions must be decided by men or God. That Hippolita groups “fathers” and “husbands” with “heaven” suggests that men have a claim to female obedience equal to that of God. Further, this patriarchal viewpoint oppresses women even more profoundly than is at first evident, as it also implies that women are unable to become as close to God as men.
While the women of the novel adore, respect, and obey the men in their lives, the men view the women as little more than objects that will unquestioningly fulfill their desires. For example, once Hippolita is unable to produce another male heir, Manfred decides to discard her and nearly murders her, as she is no longer useful to him as a reproductive tool. Matilda is objectified both by her father and by her potential suitor. Despite her original intention to become a nun, Manfred decides to marry her off to Frederic without consulting her in order to maintain his control over Otranto. Frederic, too, objectifies Matilda by discussing the engagement without her consent and by using his own daughter as currency to obtain Matilda.
In the time in which the story is set and in which Walpole wrote, this objectification of women was also economic. Women were regarded as property, and their key selling point was their marriageability — that is, their virginity and their ability to reproduce. Consequently, noblewomen’s bodies were often pawns used by their families to forge alliances and gain property and power.
Gender and Marriage ThemeTracker
Gender and Marriage Quotes in The Castle of Otranto
She was, however, just going to beg admittance, when Manfred suddenly opened the door; and, as it was now twilight, concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish the person, but asked angrily, who it was? Matilda replied, trembling, “My dearest father, it is I, your daughter.” Manfred, stepping back hastily, cried, “Begone! I do not want a daughter”; and flinging back abruptly, clapped the door against the terrified Matilda.
That excellent lady, who no more than Manfred doubted the reality of the vision, yet affected to treat it as a delirium of the servant. Willing, however, to save her lord from any additional shock, and prepared by a series of grief not to tremble at any accession to it, she determined to make herself the first sacrifice, if fate had marked the present hour for their destruction.
Ashamed, too, of his inhuman treatment of a princess, who returned every injury with new marks of tenderness and duty; he felt returning love forcing itself into his eyes—but not less ashamed of feeling remorse towards one, against whom he was inwardly meditating a yet more bitter outrage, he curbed the yearnings of his heart, and did not dare to lean even towards pity. The next transition of his soul was to exquisite villainy. Presuming on the unshaken submission of Hippolita, he flattered himself that she would not only acquiesce with patience to a divorce, but would obey, if it was his pleasure, in endeavouring to persuade Isabella to give him her hand.
“O that dear mother! yes, Bianca, ‘tis there I feel the rugged temper of Manfred. I can support his harshness to me with patience; but it wounds my soul when I am witness to his causeless severity towards her.” “Oh! madam,” said Bianca, “all men use their wives so, when they are weary of them.” “And yet your congratulated me but now,” said Matilda, “when you fancied my father intended to dispose of me!” “I would have you a great lady,” replied Bianca, “come what will. I do not wish to see you moped in a convent, as you would be if you had your will, and if my lady, your mother, who knows that a bad husband is better than no husband at all, did not hinder you—”
“Father,” interrupted Manfred, “I pay due reverence to your holy profession; but I am sovereign here, and will allow no meddling priest to interfere in the affairs of my domestic. If you have aught to say, attend me to my chamber—I do not use to let my wife be acquainted with the secret affairs of my state; they are not within a woman’s province.”
“Holy father,” said Hippolita, “it is your office to be no respecter of persons: you must speak as your duty prescribes—but it is my duty to hear nothing that it pleases not my lord I should hear.”
I fear no man’s displeasure when a woman in distress puts herself under my protection.
Know then, that I have long been troubled in mind on my union with the princess Hippolita…for we are related within the forbidden degrees. My only difficulty was to fix on a successor, who would be tender of my people, and to dispose of the Lady Isabella, who is dear to me as my own blood. I was willing to restore the line of Alfonso, even in his most distant kindred…. I would submit to anything for the good of my people—were it not the best, the only way to extinguish the feuds between our families, if I was to take the Lady Isabella to wife—you start—but, though Hippolita’s virtues will ever be dear to me, a prince must not consider himself; he is born for his people.
Matilda disengaged herself from her women, stole up to the black tower, and unbolting the door, presented herself to the astonished Theodore. “Young man,” said she, “though filial duty and womanly modesty condemn the step I am taking, yet holy charity, surmounting all other ties, justifies this act. Fly, the doors of thy prison are open: my father and his domestics are absent, but they may soon return.”
Where’er a casque that suits this sword is found,
With perils is thy daughter compass’ed round;
Alfonso’s blood alone can save the maid,
And quiet a long restless prince’s shade.
“Thou art as much too good for this world,” said Isabella, “as Manfred is execrable—but think not, lady, that thy weakness shall determine for me. I swear, hear me all ye angels” — Stop, I adjure thee,” cried Hippolita; “remember thou dost not depend on thyself; thou hast a father.”
It is not ours to make election for ourselves: heaven, our fathers, and our husbands, must decide for us. Have patience until you hear what Manfred and Frederic have determined. If the marquis accepts Matilda’s hand, I know she will readily obey. Heaven may interpose and prevent the rest.
Manfred, in the mean time, had broken his purpose to Frederic, and proposed the double marriage. That weak prince, who had been struck with the charms of Matilda, listened but too eagerly to the offer. He forgot his enmity to Manfred, whom he saw but little hope of dispossessing by force; and flattering himself that no issue might succeed from the union of his daughter with the tyrant, he looked upon his own succession to the principality as facilitated by wedding Matilda.
That prince had discovered so much passion for Matilda, that Manfred hoped to obtain all he wished by holding out or withdrawing his daughter’s charms, according as the marquis should appear more or less disposed to co-operate in his views.
“Thou guiltless, but unhappy woman! unhappy by my crimes!” replied Manfred, “my heart, at last, is open to thy devout admonitions. Oh! could—but it cannot be—ye are lost in wonder—let me at last do justice on myself! To heap shame on my own head is all the satisfaction I have left to offer to offended Heaven. My story has drawn down these judgements: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!