Book Review: The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve

The Old English BaronTitle: The Old English Baron
Author: Clara Reeve
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: 2008 (1778)
Genre: Gothic / Classic
Summary: When Sir Philip Harclay returns to England after a long absence, he finds that his childhood friend, Arthur, Lord Lovel, is no longer alive, and that the castle and estates of the Lovel family have twice changed hands. But a mysteriously abandoned set of rooms in the castle promises to disclose the secrets of the past. After a series of frantic episodes and surprising revelations, culminating in a trial by combat, the crimes of the usurper and the legitimacy of the true heir are finally discovered.

Welcome to a review about the only Gothic novel I didn’t enjoy reading.

Clara Reeve’s aim was to rewrite and reimagine Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which is considered the first Gothic novel, and it was an incredibly influential novel for later Gothic writers who looked toward Walpole and Reeve for a blueprint of what a Gothic novel could look like. I was really looking forward to reading it but, unfortunately, it just fell a little bit flat for me.

The plot had everything that you’d want in a Gothic novel. There’s an abandoned castle, family secrets waiting to be uncovered, and a murder. It’s set in Medieval Europe – specifically Medieval England. There’s an emphasis on inheritance and bloodlines. It’s a typical Gothic novel and that’s why I liked it. I knew what I expected from this novel and I was happy that it delivered what I expected. So, it wasn’t the plot that was the issue because that was great.

However, it still missed the mark for me and I think Reeve’s writing style may have been part of the issue because I found her writing difficult to get into. It was dull and I found myself distracted from what was a very good Gothic plot by the writing style. It was just a personal reaction to Reeve’s writing and that doesn’t mean that it was badly written, it just means that I didn’t like it.

Overall, this is a great Gothic novel and I can understand why it was so influential on the Gothic genre but I just didn’t like Reeve’s writing and that meant that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to.


I read this via Project Gutenberg (because it was free) but I have included a link below to the Oxford University Press edition if anyone wants to buy it instead.

(Project Gutenberg | Goodreads | Book Depository)

Read as part of the Classics Club Challenge. This post does not contain affiliate links.

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