In The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole sets the norm for Gothic novels to follow. He introduces such themes as the supernatural, the tragic heroine, usurpation, and a central location. Clara Reeve in her novel The Old English Baron redefines Walpole's definition of Gothic and makes it her own. She focuses on the reason and law behind the story rather than on the supernatural and how that affects the characters. For Reeve the supernatural is a means to an end, a way to entice her character to solve the mystery. For Walpole the supernatural is central to the plot, and it is only through the supernatural that the true heir is unveiled. Although the novels are different in certain ways they do share stock elements in Gothic novels such as; the rightful heir, a central location, the supernatural, and the villain. Walpole's Theodore and Reeve's Edmund, both rightful heirs, are raised as peasants.
[...] Even though Sir Walter Lovell asks Lady Lovell to marry him, she has the power to refuse and so the whole novel is not about him chasing after her. This was the opposite for Isabella who had no such choice and was at the mercy of her guardian who later approves of Manfred marrying her. For Reeve the focus of the novel is in proving the crimes that were committed and the romance is merely a side note. Incest does not even need to be mentioned as there is only one main relationship. [...]
[...] Even so, Reeve keeps some of the Gothic conventions in her novel. The Castle Lovell is a central character in the novel. Within its walls lie the secret and the evidence of murder, the literal skeleton in the closet. Also, the doors of the castle fly open as if welcoming the true heir when Edmund arrives. There is the tragic hero, Edmund, born into a family of peasants as Theodore was in The Castle of Otranto. Also, there is the villain, Sir Walter Lovell, who usurps his cousin and takes over the lands. [...]
[...] The setting of the novels also provides another key difference. Reeve sets her novel in the present and shows that such a story is not to be seen as barbaric or backward. Walpole set his novel in the past and in a catholic society which was viewed as barbaric and backward by Walpole's readers. It was as if Walpole was saying “Aren't you glad you don't live in that Reeve, in contrast enables her readers to picture the story happening in the present day. [...]
[...] Walpole sticks to the main Gothic conventions and readers are left with a feeling of the uncanny. Reeve cannot follow the Gothic convention as closely as Walpole does. She has an audience to cater to and so cannot write anything she pleases. Her job is to sell her books and she does this by placing her plot in a modern and easily recognized setting. She keeps some of the main Gothic characteristics; such as the non-existent mother, the peasant hero, the villain/usurper, the castle, and the ghost. [...]
[...] definition of the Gothic novel. On the other hand there are also token differences in each of the novels. One noticeable difference is the way that the author deals with the theme of incest. In The Castle of Otranto, Manfred wants to marry Isabella to secure his right to the castle. His interest in her has incestuous undertones, as Manfred's son Conrad was supposed to marry Isabella before he got killed by a giant helmet. Manfred tries to force Isabella into marrying him, not caring that he has to get her guardian's permission first. [...]
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