Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Close Reading Questions for “Early Responses to The Castle of Otranto (pp.117-143)
Answer TWO of the following for Thursday...
1. A general question: which response do you most agree with as a reader? Does this response seem especially “modern” to you (in other words, is this how most people would read/view it today)? Explain why you are sympathetic to this critique of the book.
2. Many of the reviews decry the “unchristian” or “barbaric” moral of the novel. Consider Robert Jephson’s review of The Count of Narbonne (a play based on Otranto, Review #8): “What conclusion can be drawn from hence, but that oracles, divinations, and prophecies, should be believed and must always be fulfilled? Such notions can only tend to enslave the mind, and must bring us back to the long exploded errors of ignorance and barbarism” (127). Why do you think so many reviews focus on the “moral” of the work, and is this truly the “heart” of the book? Are they missing the point?
3. Sir Walter Scott (Review #12) defends the supernatural elements in Otranto (rather than dismissing them as farce), writing that the “moonlight vision of Alphonso dilated to immense magnitude, the astonished group of spectators in front, and the shattered ruins of the castle in the back-ground, is briefly and sublimely described. We know no passage of similar merit…” (139). Based on your reading of Romantic literature (esp. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, etc.), how are these elements “sublime,” and why might Scott defend them as essential to Walpole’s plan?
4. How does Clara Reeve (Review #7) position her own novel in relation to The Castle of Otranto? Reeve’s novel, The Old English Baron, is a reworking of Otranto in a more modern and English setting. She clearly meant to improve upon the book and make it more “sensible” and less likely to “excite laughter” (125). According to the Preface, what does she acknowledge, modify, or improve?