Generally regarded as the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto was first published in 1764. Its author is Horace Walpole (1717–1797), but it purports to be a translation of a work printed in Naples in 1529 and newly discovered in the library of ‘an ancient Catholic family in the north of England’. The novel relates the history of Manfred, the prince of Otranto, who is keen to secure the castle for his descendants in the face of a mysterious curse. At the beginning of the work Manfred’s son, Conrad, is crushed to death by an enormous helmet on the morning of his wedding to the beautiful Princess Isabella. Faced with the extinction of his line, Manfred vows to divorce his wife and marry the terrified Isabella himself.
The novel had a major effect on the reading public throughout Europe, with the poet Thomas Gray commenting to Walpole that it made ‘some of us cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o’nights’.
This copy has Horace Walpole’s initials on the inside front cover.