Friday, January 15, 2010
Close Reading Questions for Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (Chs.3-5)
Answer TWO of the following for Tuesday's class (if you choose to do these; otherwise wait for Thursday's questions)
1. In the Introduction to Otranto by Michael Gamer, he writes that many readers pick up on the “camp” qualities of the book. As he writes, “They occur in the book’s superfluous details (as when Bianca notes that no one has slept in the chamber below them ‘since the great astrologer that was your brother’s tutor drowned himself’ (p.38)), in its habit of setting conventions against one another (as when the chivalry-mad Theodore unchivalriously pledges himself both to Matilda and to Isabella because he cannot tell the two heroines apart), and in its crucial scenes (as when the statue of Alphonso the Good ludicrously bleeds from its nose)” (xxix). How do you read/interpret these moments of “camp” or seeming absurdity? Is he laughing at the characters, the gothic elements, or the novel itself?
2. Toward the end of the work, Jerome (the friar) berates Manfred for his evil deeds, remarking: “behold the completion of woe fulfilled on thy impious and devoted head! The blood of Alfonso cried to heaven for vengeance; and heaven has permitted its altar to be polluted by assassination, that thou mightest shed thy own blood at the foot of that prince’s sepulcher!” (95-96). This view suggests that Manfred was merely a chess piece to be manipulated by God/Fate to atone for the sins of his ancestors (“the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation”). Is Jerome the moral voice of the novel (and therefore is telling us how to "read" it)? Was Manfred acted upon or did he create the evil that he must now atone for?
3. In his essay, The First English Gothic Novel: The Castle of Otranto, James Norton suggests that “Walpole, who was deeply involved in politics, uses Gothic discourse to critique the English political structure that was created and perpetuated a system of privilege that protected and sustained male corruption and oppression.” How might we read the novel as a political allegory—what passages or events might seem to underline this quality of “male corruption and oppression”?
4. Some contemporary reviews attacked Otranto for its “Gothic devilism,” finding it disturbingly atheistic (after all, the ghosts and spirits are real in the context of the book). However, most Gothic works invoke the spirituality of a distant age in order to contrast it with the Enlightenment ethos. What do you think was Walpole’s intention in Otranto—to satirize the church and its doctrines, or to reaffirm a more orthodox spirituality?