Gothic Plots in Gothic Literature in Horace Walpole’s Work
Gothic literature is the literature of love and terror. This genre of fiction is considered the new literary movement. It has many characteristics that distinguish it amongst all available genres in the English literature. The most significant characteristic of both, old, and new Gothic literatures is the existence of the plot. One can argue that without the plot, Gothic literature would make no sense. Horace Walpole was the first Gothic writer who invented the Gothic story. His first novel, The Castle of Otranto, was plotted from the beginning until the end. It is fair enough to say that Walpole indeed did set the standard for all of the Gothic writers who followed him. The Castle of Otranto had the scenery, the old castle, the protagonists along with the other characters; the romance, the lust, the mystery, the crimes, and all of them took place in a perfect setting that would bring terror the reader.
In Walpole’s case, his whole story was stimulated by a dream that presented a real complication of paranormal phenomena in his mind. Hence, the plot was very significant to present his obscure vision of the non-rational and the unreasonable events in this story. Framing his narrative was necessary for it to succeed, and the only way to achieve that was through plotting. The Castle of Otranto was structured properly in terms of the rules of melodrama. There was nothing unnecessary in its details, and everything flowed smoothly. What was fascinating in the story was that Walpole kept the description to the slightest, yet he managed to deliver the whole picture to the reader clearly. He used clear language that was not overbearing or excessive. Despite of the unpredictability in the emotions, all of the events, the descriptions, and the mystery were perfectly framed within the horrifying amorous plot. Doing so contributed a lot in attracting the reader, confuses, and surprises him or her and made the story more appealing.
“Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda. Conrad, the son, was three years younger, a homely youth, sickly, and of no promising disposition; yet he was the darling of his father, who never showed any symptoms of affection to Matilda. Manfred had contracted a marriage for his son with the Marquis of Vicenza’s daughter, Isabella; and she had already been delivered by her guardians into the hands of Manfred, that he might celebrate the wedding as soon as Conrad’s infirm state of health would permit” (Walpole 73). This preceding sentence is one of the examples of Walpole’s style that shows the significance of plotting. Without it, there was no other way that would make what happens in the story understandable, appealing, and successful. Walpole’s story had many complicated emotions in it. Since it came from a dream, it makes the reader sense many personal conflicts on the writer’s side. The unusual events that occurred in the Castle of Otranto, the thriller, the mystery, all make the reader feel the frightening phantasms and fill the soul with surreptitious fears. Walpole wanted the reader to experience everything in his novel, while evoking his or her emotions and imagination to allow them to further think of more terrifying details. “A bystander often sees more of the game than those that play”, and this is exactly how the reader feels while following the plot (Walpole 56).
Furthermore, the plot needs to be combined with the other characteristics of Gothic literature in order to draw a complete, perfect picture. The medieval setting and the described decoration were connected immediately to the existence of the frightening supernatural powers in the castle. Their existence was the main guide of the mysteries that occurred inside the Castle of Otranto. The events of the story invoke the psychological thriller in the reader as well. Throughout the book, Walpole used supernatural wonders and mysteries. He also used clear connotations and negative imageries from Catholicism, which is another important characteristic of the Gothic novels.
Plot sets the foundation to the reader, introducing him or her to the main characters. It makes the reader know who they are, what they do, what they want, how they are going to get what they want, and what conflicts and obstacles are hindering them from doing so. It shows the reader their motivations, and motivates the reader to follow them in their journey. Without knowing them, they would be just names that make no sense to the reader. Furthermore, the action comes to the picture due to the existence of the conflicts and the barriers, without seeing them, the reader cannot distinguish between the characters, their personalities, strength, weakness, and would not know who to like, who to hate, and why. The reader cannot have a reactions to the emotions presented in the story without the structured plot. It gives the story an introduction, a climax, and a proper conclusion. The plot is significant in helping the reader keep track of the events. It also can make him or her predict the upcoming events and adds to the excitement. “Never is the reader’s attention relaxed. The rules of the drama are almost observed throughout the conduct of the piece” (Walpole 18).
The significance of plotting the Gothic stories in precise comes from the un-subjectivity in the literature. Where the focus is not on one character only, instead, on the sequence of the unexplainable events. Hence, the plot structures the story in a very precise form in which the story occurs and makes it engaging although it is fictional. Without it, the writer would be limited in his or her imaginary events and wouldn’t be able to deliver the story appropriately. Without a plot, The Castle of Otranto would be a story about a prince who encounters strange events in his life and finally leaves his throne to a peasant. The plot matters to the reader because it is how most people were taught to read and expect. The common knowledge learned is that stories have to apt the plot structure. The reader needs to sense the action throughout the story and finally find a natural, neat, and perhaps a satisfying conclusion. One can defiantly see where plot is significant and dominates the story by simply watching a movie. Plot is basically the significant influencer behind every piece of literature. Without it, there is no hook that attracts the reader, no conflict that coerces the protagonists to struggle for a certain aim. Most importantly, there will be not story.
Furthermore, plot is what makes literature interesting in the first place. Many stories might have the same, redundant, or classic models of plots, yet each story takes the reader in a different adventure and helps him or her build a connection with the characters. “The plot is part obstacle course, part free-for-all, and part relay race in which the participants run through a cluttered labyrinth passing the baton to whomever they happen to meet” (Napier 60). In the Gothic literature, plot is curtail to move the story forward and create the overall atmosphere of restlessness that characterizes this genre’s stories. Another characteristic that depends on the plot is the heavy exaggeration of the Gothic stories that expresses states of intensity and divisions of action as they occur.
The significance of the plot in Gothic literature was shown in Horace Walpole’s first work and it is still being used by the most recent Gothic writer, Stephen King, centuries after had Walpole had sat the standards. King followed the classic gothic elements at the beginning, then, he united them with modern events and created a modernized form of Gothic literature. No matter if it is the old or the new form of the literature, plot is significant in making the story readable and lasting. Plotting contributes in broadening the horizons of the writers and takes them into so many adventures throughout the process of writing a story. Otherwise, it would be a dull, boring, unreadable pile of papers. After all, “Heaven mocks the short-sighted views of man” (Walpole 104).
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