ENG 309: British Literature 1600-1800: Response
Horace Walpole’s published the first Gothic novel, “Castle of Otranto,” in 1764. “Castle of Otranto” is a dramatic and dark novel featuring several elements such as heroines, supernatural occurrences, and extreme weather. Most importantly, it reflects the role and treatment of women in the 18th century. The plot of “Castle of Otranto” revolves around an ancestral curse that predicts the end of Manfred’s rule and destruction of his family, which makes children’s death seem inevitable. However, I believe that Matilda’s death was avoidable. However, her father’s blind rage and attitude towards women lead to her demise. Thus, he actualized the prophecy in his attempts to deflect it.
Manfred’s fixation on the survival of his bloodline made him act impulsively and irrationally because his fear of the curse dictated his actions. Throughout the novel, he exhibits anxiety about the curse, which causes him to be dismissive or act in spurts of anger towards his family and Isabella. For example, when his son, Conrad, died, Manfred reacted by announcing that he will divorce Hippolita and marry Isabella. (‘Castle of Otranto,’ 8-16). He even told Isabella that his son was not “worthy” of her beauty, and proceeded to say, “he was a sickly, punny child, and Heaven has perhaps taken him away, that I might not trust the honours of my house on so frail a foundation” (‘Castle of Otranto,’ 15). Manfred’s paranoia and impulsive behavior are necessary to set the scene for potential disasters. Manfred’s response to his son’s death shows how he is out of touch with reality because he exhibits dissociative behavior, which provides the readers with some insight into the extent he is willing to go to secure his blood in the royal line. I also believe that his obsession with the curse caused his inability to process reality or his feelings, increasing the mental and emotional strain on him and leading to his breaking point.
In addition to his impulsive behavior, Manfred’s attitudes towards women are central to Matilda’s death. He treated his children differently based on their sex. For example, he was affectionate towards Conrad despite being “sickly and of no promising disposition.” However, he was dismissive of Matilda (‘Castle of Otranto,’ 7). His cruel rejection of Matilda is because she is worthless as a woman. After all, she cannot be an heir. In one instance, he angrily yells at her, saying, “Begone! I do not want a daughter” (‘Castle of Otranto,’ 13). This moment showcases his impulsive and dismissive attitude towards Matilda, as well as sheds light on his alienation from his daughter.
The gendering of the public and private spheres shows the extent to which Manfred is alienated from his daughter. For example, Manfred emphasized that women must remain within their domestic spheres; “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” (‘Castle of Otranto,’ 8-12). This creates more distance between Matilda and her father because, unlike Conrad, she was confined away from him.
Consequently, Manfred’s blind rage overtook him when he thought that Isabella was meeting Theodore in St. Nicholas’s church. He approached the “persons he sought,” and he heard “indistinct whispers.” Mistaking Matilda’s whispers with Isabella’s, Manfred pulls out his dagger and stabs her (‘Castle of Otranto,’ 113-115). I think that Matilda would not have died if her father was involved in her life because he would have been able to recognize his daughter’s voice. However, because he continually dismissed her because of her sex, he was unable to differentiate her voice from Isabella’s. Manfred’s focus on a son also blinded him from seeing that Matilda had the potential to secure his bloodline if she married Theodore. Moreover, if he had not been fixated on the curse, he would not have driven himself to a point where he would turn to murder, ultimately killing his daughter.