Literature Study GuidesThe Castle Of OtrantoPreface To The First Edition Summary

The Castle of Otranto | Study Guide

Horace Walpole

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The Castle of Otranto | Preface to the First Edition | Summary



Horace Walpole, when first publishing the novel, wanted to convince readers it was an ancient text. He added a preface to the first edition, explaining that the novel was found in the library of an "ancient Catholic family in the North of England." He also claimed that the manuscript and the events within it were likely written down, in Italian, around the time the events took place, "sometime between 1095, the era of the first crusade, and 1243." He asserts that it was first printed in Naples in 1529, and that he is only the manuscript's translator.

During this time period, according to Walpole, people highly valued miracles and spiritual signs, thus they are included in the text. He also states, "I cannot flatter myself with having done justice to my author in this respect: his style is as elegant as his conduct of the passions is masterly." Walpole suggests that the novel is most fit for the theater. Walpole also makes fun of the supposed author (who is, in fact, Walpole himself), saying, "Yet I am not blind to my author's defects" in "ground[ing] his plan" on the moral that "the sins of fathers are visited on their children" and believing the curse on Manfred can be "diverted ... by devotion to St. Nicholas."


Walpole attempted to give his novel an air of importance and mystery by framing it as a new translation of an ancient, previously unknown text. The preface acts as if it is truthful but is in fact Walpole's invention. Perhaps he is playing a joke on his audience or he is hiding feelings of shame about his writing. His comments about the moral of the story ("sins of fathers ... visited on their children") and devotion to St. Nicholas seem to preempt what Walpole fears his readers will criticize and reject in the novel. However, the sham did not last long. When the public favorably received the novel, Walpole came forward as the true author, and subsequent editions bore his name.

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