Waking from a dream in the summer of 1764, Horace Walpole put pen to paper and wrote solidly for two months. The end result was The Castle of Otranto – the first Gothic novel – published on Christmas Eve of the same year.
The story revolves around a labyrinthine medieval Italian Castle and its lord, Manfred. It is a tale of mistaken identity, supernatural happenings and tense pursuits, and is Walpole’s deliberate attempt to protest against the unimaginative fiction of his day. Otranto harks back to the entertainment and improbability found in medieval romances and by subtitling it ‘a Gothic story’ Walpole invented the genre of the same name that still exists today.
This is Walpole’s personal copy of the second edition of Otranto. It was published four months after the successful first edition and identifies Walpole as the author for the first time. When deciding where to set his novel Walpole referred to a map of Italy and chose the town of Otranto at random. In 1786 he was alerted to the existence of an actual castle in Otranto when he was given the watercolour drawing by Willey Reveley which is now bound into this copy. Walpole was so pleased with the accidental similarity between the real castle and his imagined one that he had the drawing engraved for use in later editions of the novel.