Gothic novels are seen as the beginning of modern horror fiction. Many devotees believed Gothic novels have inspired pleasant horror in its readers. The genre is generally accepted to have been started by Horace Walpole and his novel The Castle of Otranto. Although Walpole was an aristocrat and could afford not to depend on the income of the novel, he chose not to claim authorship of his novel because of the controversial nature of the book. In The Castle of Otranto, Walpole sets the norm for Gothic novels to follow. He introduces such themes as the supernatural, the tragic heroine, usurpation, hereditary curses, and a central location. Clara Reeve bases her novel The Old English Baron on Walpole's essential Gothic elements, redefines his definition of the 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.
[...] 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 is in The Castle of Otranto. Also, there is the villain, Sir Walter Lovell, who usurps his cousin and takes over the lands. [...]
[...] Walpole was a member of the aristocratic class. He had inherited wealth and was also a member of the Parliament. Walpole had no financial needs and writing this novel was a form of entertainment for him. Reeve, on the other hand, made her living by writing novels. She could not write about the type of events that Walpole did as certain elements such as the incestuous undertones would shock her readers and cause her book not to be sold. Walpole had no such worries, and so he could write about ghosts and incest even if such topics might shock his readers. [...]
[...] Manfred's son Conrad is killed by a giant helmet supposedly the property of the immense ghost of Alphonso the Great that resides in the castle. The ghost plays a major role in determining the fate of Manfred and his family. His claim to the castle is overturned just by the ghost declaring it so. No evidence other than the ghost's word is needed to prove the rightful heir. In this way the theme of the supernatural presents another key difference between the two novels. The setting of the novels also provides another key difference. [...]
[...] Each of these stock elements contribute to each author's 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. [...]
[...] Another difference between the novels is the role of the usurper. The role of the usurper is different in Walpole's novel, in that Alphonso is killed by his chamberlain, Manfred's grandfather. For Walpole, the usurpation happened in the past and is not directly Manfred's fault. Manfred is a victim of fate in that he is the descendant of the real usurper. Manfred acts wrongly in that he knows what has happened, and yet he tries to keep his land and power by marrying Isabella. [...]
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