Literature Study GuidesThe Castle Of OtrantoPreface To The Second Edition Summary

The Castle of Otranto | Study Guide

Horace Walpole

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



Walpole begins his preface by apologizing for having tricked his readers by "having offered his work to them under the borrowed personage of a translator" and promises to explain his motivations for writing The Castle of Otranto. He admits that he believes the current trends in the fiction of his time are overly focused on being realistic, just as the ancient romances he so admires are too unnatural. Under extraordinary circumstances, in the romances of old, the "actors seem to lose their sense," he explains. Walpole's main motivation is to "reconcile the two kinds." He wants to make characters who, when in extraordinary situations, "think, speak, and act" "according to the rules of probability."

From there Walpole moves on to address criticism he has received about how the domestic servants are portrayed in The Castle of Otranto. His reply is: "The great master of nature, SHAKESPEARE, was the model I copied." He goes on to explain—and refute the literary theories of French philosopher and author Voltaire (1694–1778)—that the servant characters serve to highlight the sublimity of the main characters and provide some comic moments in the tragedy. It is natural in Walpole's estimation that some elements of comedy should be in tragedy and vice versa.


Now that the true authorship has been revealed, the Preface to the First Edition becomes a part of the fiction, and the beginning of the novel takes on a humorous tone. Walpole's fake author and fake translator become additional characters—though periphery ones. The switch refuses an easy way of interpretation and begins the idea of things not always being what they seem. Walpole's framing of the story created a common occurrence in Gothic literature, where an author pretends the story has ancient or medieval origins. Some authors of Gothic literature claimed their novels were found in a woman's journal and other sources.

In taking on Voltaire, comparing himself to Shakespeare, and explaining to his reader his literary motivations—reconcile two literary genres—Walpole seeks to legitimize himself as a serious author.

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