First published in December 1764, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is considered the first Gothic novel. Walpole initially published the novel anonymously, prefacing the text with a fabricated claim that it was a translation of a manuscript dated 1529, which had been discovered recently in Italy. After the novel received a favorable reception, however, Walpole acknowledged the work as his own and admitted that it was fiction.
The Castle of Otranto explores the lord of the castle, Manfred, and his descent into depravity. The novel opens memorably with the sudden death of Manfred’s son Conrad, who is crushed to death on his wedding day by a giant helmet that falls from the sky. Prompted by lust and his sudden need for an heir, Manfred decides to divorce his wife in order to marry Isabella, the princess originally intended as his son’s bride. Yet Isabella has no intention of marrying Manfred, and the pace of the novel moves swiftly as she attempts to escape. The Castle of Otranto features supernatural elements and characters with hidden identities.
Special Collections owns a first edition The Castle of Otranto. This copy is known as the Frank J. Hogan-Borowitz copy, which features the 4th Earl of Newburgh’s device in gilt on the spine.