Castle of Otranto Companion: Adaptations

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1 Danielle Zimmer Gothic Novel March 17, 2014 Castle of Otranto Companion: Adaptations The emergence of the Gothic genre had a substantial impact on society. A critical aspect to understanding the significance of Horace Walpole s The Castle of Otranto is considering the public s response to the novel. By knowing how the novel was received at the time, today s readers can gather a new perspective on Walpole s intent. One way to achieve this goal is to examine the public s reaction to other adaptations of The Castle of Otranto, such as Robert Jephson s play, The Count of Narbonne a Czech film adaptation from the 1970's The Castle of Otrants, and a 2012 comic book strip of The Castle of Otranto. By looking at adaptations, we can gain a better sense of what aspects of The Castle of Otranto were important enough to keep in this adaptation, and what aspects were easily abandoned. By taking this approach, we as readers can get a better sense of what contemporaries found meaningful. Through this understanding we can obtain a greater insight to the significance of The Castle of Otranto and the impact of the Gothic genre for readers in the eighteenth century. The Count of Narbonne is a five-act play that includes the five major events included in The Castle of Otranto in a rearranged order. By keeping all the same events and incidents as the original novel, Jephson showed that one of the main aspects that gained the public regards from The Castle Of Otranto was the plot. A London reviewer praised Walpole s novel on the aspect of its plot development, saying, The characters are well marked, and the narrative kept up with surprising

2 spirit and propriety ( Literary annals: or, The reviewers reviewed 6). This coincides with the literary reviews of The Count of Narbonne at the time by a London review. Critics praised Jephson s play for the elements of its plot, saying, The characters, language, and sentiments of the persons of the drama are well known and supported, and sufficiently discriminated from each other ( The European Magazine, and London Review 25). The coinciding of these reviews and the incorporation of the plot into Jephson s play shows that the plot was an important aspect of the original novel that had a heavy impact on readers. Jephson s decision to keep the plot as it was originally written embodies this statement, showing that the plot had eighteenth century readers intrigued because it was something that they felt they could relate to. Based on these reviews and the fact that Jephson incorporated the entirety of the plot in his play adaptation, it seems apparent that the plot was the main aspect that contemporaries of the time truly enjoyed in The Castle of Otranto. The main difference between Walpole s novel and the play is that the supernatural aspect has been eliminated. Walpole commented on Jephson s adaptation to this novella, crediting him for honoring and improving his outlines (Riely 11). Although this seems strange to us that the founding author of the Gothic genre would appreciate having the supernatural elements taken out of his original work, eighteenth century England seemed to have more cultural acceptance towards this approach. In our day and age, we see it as practically criteria for a Gothic work to have some supernatural occurrence. However, the eighteenth century critics were less than thrilled at the thought of such occurrences that

3 questioned the realm of normality. Their world was seen with order and to have a disruption in that order was uncomfortable and unaccepted by many contemporaries. They bashed Walpole for his use of supernatural paraphernalia and grotesqueness, saying, The publication of any work, at this time, in England, composed of such rotten materials, is a phenomenon for which we can not account for. We shall not affront the reader s understanding with a description of the horrible monstrosities of this story ( Literary annals: or, the reviewers reviewed 6). By comparing this to the review of The Count of Narbonne, it is clear that the lack of supernatural presence was more accepted, thus making The Count of Narbonne much more highly favored in the eyes of the public. By taking the supernatural occurrences such as the helmet squishing Conrad, the novel was more appropriate to read and the element of fear was eliminated for the audience. This made them less afraid to enjoy the play and lessened their fear of the unknown because they did not have to address it. Likewise, it eased the level of grotesqueness by addressing Conrad s death as an accident without going into detail, unlike in Walpole s novel where the accident is described in intimate detail (Jephson 2). The main critique of The Count of Narbonne was, The diction, may perhaps, be considered as too poetical and the catastrophe too horrid ( The European Magazine, and London Review 25). The main reason that critics found the play to be too horrid was because this was a breakthrough in that the most virtuous character died instead of having a happy ending. According to a London review, The contrary practice is less pleasing to the mind, and it may be observed that those dramas, which have a fortunate conclusion for the virtuous characters, have

4 ever been the greatest favorites with the public ( The European Magazine, and London Review 25). Jephson did not alter the death of Matilda in his play even though he knew it was not going to be received as kosher by the public. The reason behind this lies in the fact that the death of Matilda adds an element of excitement and scandal to the play that previously had not been experimented with. By doing so, both Walpole and Jephson had a breakthrough in accomplishing what we think of today as the Gothic genre. A more modern adaptation of The Castle of Otranto is a Czech film account of the findings of the real location of the real life setting of The Castle of Otranto. In this Czech film directed by Jan Svankmejer, a Czech castle investigated by a doctor is thought to be the original Castle of Otranto, even though it was supposedly set in Italy. The humor of the film can mainly be derived through the portrayal of the doctor and his reasoning for why this is the actual castle and how it must be a true story based on the evidence found in this abandoned castle. The film contains void evidence that is said to be proof of the helmet falling and the giant breaking through the castle. These particular aspects are poked fun at because they are the most unbelievable and contrary to what modern society would consider being scary. This shows how much of a gap there is between eighteenth century society and modern society in terms of horror and appreciation of the Gothic genre. In the original publishing of The Castle of Otranto, the people of the time thought this story to be real until Walpole eventually took credit for writing the novel as fiction. In more modern times, it almost seems absurd that anyone could believe this as being a true story. This absurdity that the plot of The Castle of Otranto could have actually

5 occurred to us is preposterous, which in turn makes this Czech film adaptation comical. The Czech film adaptation plays off of these outrageous occurrences and draws attention to them by casting them in a humorous light. By doing so, viewers are made aware of the impossibility and the lack of terror the novel presents which in turn illuminated the generational gap. This specific inclusion of the most unbelievable elements further shows how the ideals of generations have changed. Another aspect of the Czech film that added to the humor was the chosen quotations and pictures that accompanied them in order to make the investigation seem more real and dramatic. This also shows another generational gap in the appreciation of literature back then to the appreciation of literature in modern times. In the eighteenth century, the main praise of Walpole s novel was the diction and manner of speaking. Oppositely, that was the main critique of the novel by recent critics. While in the eighteenth century this diction was thought to be poetical, it is discouraged today as being too wordy and distracting from the main point. Critics articulate that one reason behind the wordiness of the text is due to an obsession with being legitimate. Although this was proper at the time, it is another aspect of The Castle of Otranto that has been lost on today s audience (Chaplin, 3). In 2012, Dark Horse Archives came out with a comic strip adaptation of The Castle of Otranto, summing up Walpole s entire novel in just seven pages. By cutting the novel down that much, it shows that viewers in today s day and age find the original novel much too long for the amount of events that occur. The comic book also changes much of the plot in order to make the adaptation more understandable in today s world and eliminate some of the taboo. For example, Conrad is actually

6 Manfred s nephew in the comic book and they have never met Isabella until after Conrad s death. Also, as the comic book advances, Isabella flees because of the ghost that threatens Manfred and not due to Manfred s advances to divorce his own wife and marry Isabella. The comic version also completely cuts out the characters of Manfred s wife, his daughter, Matilda, and the character of the priest who constantly warns him about his own salvation. By cutting out so much of the original text, it seems as if the story and its message have been completely changed. A main aspect of the novel that has been cut out is much of the taboo of what the marriage between Manfred and Isabella would bring. By not introducing the wife of Manfred or his daughter, the reader gets the impression that Manfred is not married and has no family, much less a daughter that is his prospective wife s own age. Also, by making Conrad a nephew, it takes away some of the perversion of Manfred s interest in marrying his betrothed so soon after his death. Likewise, Conrad being portrayed as hating Manfred further justifies this perversion and makes it seem more acceptable. By also making Isabella run from the warning of the ghost rather than the advances of Manfred, the comic makes Manfred seem like less of a monster and leaves suspense as to what might have happened if the interruption had not occurred. In this comic version, Manfred also does not slay his own daughter, which lessens the evil portrayal of him in the novel and makes him seem more humanlike to the audience. Additionally, the marriage of Theodore and Isabella makes more sense in today s culture without the love affair between Matilda and Theodore and the mourning, which results in a marriage with Isabella. Readers in modern society have an easier time relating to a marriage based on love

7 from first sight more so than a marriage that comes about from the overwhelming grief of a loved one. Another aspect that was removed in the comic version that was very much prevalent in Walpole s novel was the religious aspect. In today s society, religion is a heatedly debated topic and people have many different beliefs. However, back in the eighteenth century the beliefs of that time were forced on every member of the society and it was rare to not see religion as a key message of writing. While in Walpole s novel the most virtuous character dies instead of being granted a happy ending, there is still a very religious theme of salvation and its importance throughout the entirety of the novel. By taking out all aspects of the religious theme, the comic book plays more into the supernatural elements of the novel and does not express a religious connotation that certain people might have a hard time relating to. The creation of the Gothic genre by Horace Walpole had a significant impact on society that is still prevalent in the creation of Gothic works today. In order to understand the entirety of this impact, it is essential to look at his novel, The Castle of Otranto. Through adaptations such as The Count of Narbonne, the Czech film adaptation, and The Castle of Otranto comic strip, we can understand what elements of Walpole s original novel were important enough to keep and which have needed to be adapted in order to make the novel significant in today s society. By taking this approach, we can procure a greater insight into the importance of Horace Walpole s The Castle of Otranto and the impact of the Gothic genre for readers in the eighteenth century.

8 Works Cited Chaplin, Sue. Spectres Of Law in The Castle Of Otranto. Romanticism: The Journal of Romantic Culture and Criticism 12.3 (2006): MLA International Bibliography. Web. 29 Jan The European magazine, and London review; containing the literature, history, politics, arts, manners and amusements of the age. By the Philosophical Society of London. Vol. Volume 1. London, England Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Pages Referenced: St. Lawrence University. 29 Jan Feldstein, Al, Fred Guardineer, Edvard Moritz, and Leonard Starr. "The Castle of Otranto." Adventures Into the Unknown. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Archives, Print. Jephson, Robert. The Count of Narbonne a tragedy. As it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. By Robert Jephson, Esq.. Dublin: Printed for R. Marchbank, for the Company of Booksellers, Print. Literary annals: or, the reviewers reviewed. Vol. Volume 1. London, England Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Pages Referenced: St. Lawrence University. 29 Jan

9 The Otrants Castle. Dir. Jan Svankmajer. Perf. Jorge Luis Borges. Fandor, Film. Riely, John. "The Castle of Otranto Revisited." The Yale University Library Gazette [Hartford] 8 July 1978, 53 ed., sec. 1: 10. Print.

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