Gothic novel: Connecting to improbabilities through emotions

Eighteenth century writers had only been used to the natural horrors of reality in the beginning stages of fiction, but Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the first gothic novel of the eighteenth century, challenged the status quo, according to E.J. Clery’s article, “The ‘Genesis’ of Gothic fiction.” Walpole claimed that “‘the great resources of fancy have been dammed up, by a strict adherence to common life (p. 9).’” As Clery explains, through believable emotions, Walpole was able to connect readers to improbable occurrences and let terror “circulate via processes of identification and projection” to create the Gothic novel, a new form of fiction at the time.
Any reader from any century identifies with characters in a novel, especially when their emotions seem quite realistic. For example, when Manfred finds his son dead— beholding “his child dashed to pieces” — readers assuredly empathize with him, even after finding out the son was “buried under an enormous helmet, a hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers” because death is death even if it’s an unrealistic death. Also, when looking at the distressed Matilda, an 18-year-old daughter despised by her father, any reader would feel for her, admire her kindness and strength, as her character is truly found in real life. Right after her brother’s death, she worries for her father and wants to comfort him, so as she was “just going to beg admittance… Manfred suddenly opened the door; and, as it was now twilight, concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish the person, but asked angrily, who it was?” She replied, ‘“My dearest father, it is I, your daughter.” Because of Manfred’s inability to have another heir and his natural aversion for his daughter, he told her, “Begone! I do not want a daughter.’” This scene here compared to the death itself is natural and tells the story of a damsel in distress. Therefore, it’s evident that Walpole balances out the probability and improbability of an occurrence through truthful emotions, so that readers connect to a character without thinking of the unreality taking place.
The eighteenth century novel is also known for its directorial quality that was at first seen as representative of real life, but in Walpole’s novel, turns unrepresentative— only the lesson itself is. On page 7, Walpole reveals that the moral of the story is how “the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation,”— which is a reminder that your sins can negatively affect your children’s lives. Like Clery said, Walpole brings “divine punishment to bear on the heir of a usurper through the intervention of a vengeful ghost and assorted gargantuan pieces of armour”— resulting in the death of both his son and daughter. After reading the novel, readers may feel bad about their wrongdoings and want to repent. In fact, Manfred’s regret is almost a guiding force to do so. He says, “My story has drawn down these judgments: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!”

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