The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole Otranto is the Gothic that inspired them all, establishing the common denominators of the genre: a greedy, controlling villain; a sweet, innocent heroine (or even two); a brave hero with a mysterious past; exotic medieval European locations; a castle with many secrets; and a plethora of supernatural occurrences guaranteed to keep audiences turning the pages, their hair standing on end the whole time. The master of Castle of Otranto, Manfred, has a weakling son, Conrad, upon whom he has pinned all his hopes. He neglects his excellent wife and good daughter, and contracts a marriage for Conrad with the beautiful, rich orphan, Isabella. On the day of the marriage, Conrad is found in the courtyard of the castle crushed under a giant helmet. Could this have something to do with the mysterious ancient prophecy about Otranto, which stated that when the current family had grown too large for the position, they would fall from power? A young peasant suggests that the helmet looks like it came from a statue of Alfonso the Great, a former prince of Otranto, that stands in the village church. The helmet proves to be missing from the statue, and in his rage, Manfred accuses the peasant of using sorcery to crush Conrad with the helmet, and locks him up. In order to secure himself an heir, Manfred determines to put aside his wife, Hippolita, and marry Isabella himself. Unwilling to go along with this plan, Isabella manages to
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