The Gothic Heyday,
Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto negotiates a series of anti-Enlightenment themes in its construction of a debate concerning the relationship between the medieval and the modern. The medieval, associated with castles and malign aristocrats, becomes recast as symbolically representing some highly politicised issues of the 1760s. Anti-Enlightenment ruins and irrationality can ultimately be decoded to reveal some historically specific political, social, and economic anxieties.
It is important to note that critical discussion of Otranto has focused as much on the novel’s two prefaces as it has on the novel itself. The first edition of the novel was published on 24 December 1764, and purported to be a translation by one William Marshal of a sixteenth-century edition of an Italian manuscript by the fictitious Onuphrio Muralto, which had originally been written at some point between 1095 and 1243. Walpole, seemingly emboldened by the novel’s commercial success (and, in the main, reasonable reviews), brought out another edition in 1765 in which he admitted authorship in what has become a critically significant second preface.
Whilst the preface to the first edition attempts to pass the novel off as a genuine medieval romance, the preface to the second edition tried to define a new mode of writing initiated by the novel. Crucially, this is to be found in Walpole’s claim that the novel ‘was