The Original Ghotic Novel: Manfred is an usurpator who wants to consolidate his reign over Otranto. So he tries to marry his weak son to Isabella, heir to a more legitimate prince. But there is an old prophecy which warns against such moves, and the day of the wedding a gigantic iron helmet falls over Manfreds sons head. Then, a creepy -mostly funnily creepy- tale develops. But the plot, though wild and entertaining, is the least important thing about this 1764s novel.
The really attractive, entertaining and literarily important thing is the creation of stereotypes: the foul weather; an ancient, dark castle full of closed halls, secret passages, corridors and doors; frightening apparitions; wicked tyrants desperate for fertile women; virtuous and pure ladies; heroic lads; dark and cold forests where ghosts appear, etc. Walpole, who seems to have been an interesting man, must have had enormous fun writing this tone-setting book, which has had plenty of children in literature.
When I read it I kept imagining the scenes, the settings and the weather, and it was great to imagine it come alive.
This book is fun to read and to discover where many of the commonplaces in Gothic literature come from. Well worth it.