Comparison Of Gothic Fiction Works: Hereditary And The Castle Of Otranto

Horace Walpole is widely considered the Father of the Gothic novel, with the elements of horror in The Castle of Otranto being the benchmark of what makes a good piece of Gothic fiction. Even today, 255 years later, these elements are still used to create that feeling of dread horror fans have come to love. In Hereditary, Ari Aster uses several Gothic elements to give viewers a horrifying, yet enjoyable experience. While written 254 years apart, Hereditary and Otranto both use the theme of family to create the foundation of the story’s horrific elements. Robert Harris writes that some key Gothic Elements are supernatural events, women in distress, and a suspenseful atmosphere.

In both Otranto and Hereditary, there are several sightings of ghosts and the supernatural. For example, in Otranto, right after Conrad dies, Diego spots a gigantic leg dressed in armor, larger than any humans. In Hereditary, after Charlie’s accidental death, Annie decides to summon her back from the dead so she can speak to her. She forces Peter, her son who accidentally caused Charlie’s death, and Steve, her husband, to join her. When Charlie’s spirit starts to show herself to them, both Peter and Steve are visibly disturbed and mess up the ritual, causing unintended consequences. Additionally, both Otranto and Hereditary show women in distress. Otranto shows this when Manfred explains his plans to divorce his wife and marry Isabella to keep his bloodline going, saying that “In short, Isabella, since I cannot give you my son, I offer you myself…. Hippolita is no longer my wife; I divorce her from this hour.” Isabella is horrified by this and escapes the castle with the help of Theodore. For Isabella, she knows she’s being forced to marry a 15-year-old boy against her will and is already bummed out about it. When it comes out that she might have to marry her father-in-law, those feelings turn into pure disgust. In Hereditary, shortly after losing her mother, an already damaged Annie had to go through the pain of finding her decapitated daughter in the backseat of her car. This is seen through the point of view of Peter in bed, with a thousand-yard stare. It’s an incredibly disturbing scene, and when the viewers finally get to see Annie’s reaction, they see it from a distance, and those few seconds feel like hours. While both Annie and Isabella are in distress, they are for completely different reasons. Isabella must deal with her future as a pawn for both Manfred’s legacy and her parents, and it gets changed for the worse when she is told she might have to marry someone who could be double her age. For Annie, her distress is through the loss of her mother and child. While she wasn’t particularly close to her mother, losing a parent is still a tough thing to go through. However, when she loses her child her already damaged heart gets torn in half. Burying their child is every parent’s worst fear, and unfortunately for Annie she had to go through that. Hereditary, while 250 years younger, is heavily inspired by Castle of Otranto through several key plot elements.

In 1764, readers were given the opportunity to read horror fiction for the first time in history. While by today’s standards it isn’t particularly scary, it was an experience that readers had never experienced before. Castle of Otranto is the reason why horror fiction exists the way it does today, with ghost stories and supernatural beings being the most popular types of fiction. Even 250 years later, horror writers still look up to Castle of Otranto for inspiration. Modern day horror fans and fans during the time of Otranto still have similar fears, such as the fear of supernatural beings and ghosts However, as time passes these things have changed too. While people are still afraid of ghosts, most modern horror is Lovecraftian rather than Gothic, with monsters, zombies, gore, and things far beyond human comprehension. If people during the time of Otranto’s publication had seen horror now, they would be at a loss for words for what they were seeing.


  1. Harris, Robert. “Elements of the Gothic Novel.” Virtual Salt, 2019,
  2. Walpole, Horace. “Castle of Otranto | Chapter I.” Lit2Go, 1765,
09 March 2021
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