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The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

by Ann Radcliffe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,225504,315 (3.38)2 / 400

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English (47)  French (3)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
This is the story about how Emily St Aubert, a modest young woman of good character, overcomes her high principles and decides that maybe her legal guardian is not correct in locking her and her aunt up in his remote Italian castle in order to obtain possession of their estates. Of stalkers suitors she had plenty, and held them off graciously in order to remain free for her pure Valancourt. To love is appropriate, even if acquaintances have observed the object of that love at gaming tables spending money he does not possess.

This novel is ridiculous. I can also see what made people so mad about it. There were long sequences of words where nothing happened except for the stopping of the carriage to take in a view. Radcliffe was opposed to the idea of "horror" over "suspense". She certainly lives up to that idea, unfortunately it all seems to have gotten out of her hands. She drops more hints and secrets and unutterable sights than she can ultimately handle. And yet, I enjoyed reading it. The impossibility of the castle, the bizarre introduction in volume 4 of a new cast all reminded me of that phenomenon of a decade ago: Lost.

The Mysteries of Udolpho is the Lost of its century. There are mysteries in each character's past, however innocuous, and a conspiracy of silence until their isn't, and revelations that are hidden until the writer gets around to deciding what those revelations signify or what they will even be. I enjoyed Lost immensely, Udolpho less so, but I can appreciate how millions were drawn into the play and inspired, among many others, the fond ridicule of Jane Austen. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Goodness, this is an odd book. And this is a spoiler-rich review.
Starts with Emily being a delicate flower, with sensibilities almost too delicate to function. Poor flower, she can bvarely function as a human being, fainting at the drop of a handkerchief (have you guessed how much she annoyed me?).
On this epic trip in the mountains, Emily and her father come across a young man who aids them while lost in the passes of the mountains, this is Valencourt and he manages to fall head over heels for Emily. Only the pair of them are far too sensitive and repressed to declare themselves (I'm not sure I'd have been much good as a 18th century lady!). St Aubyn approves of Valencourt, and so the pair of them do, start, to come to some understanding of each other's heart. awww. From here, however, things go down hill for Em. Her mother has died prior to the epic trip and during the journey home, her father also succumbs. He does so at a remote abbey near to a deserted chateau and Emily is devestated. He leaves a deathbed request that Emily retrieve some papers from a hiding place in his study and destroy them. This opens a bit of a can of worms that runs as an undercurrent until its resolution at the end of the book. Radcliffe does this a number of times, starts a hare running and then leaves it, not chased down, until it suddenly pops its head up again and a bit more gets revealed. I can't decide if it's a good trick or merely an annoying one.
Emily has been left in the care of her aunt, who turns out not the be the nicest person you've ever met. She blows hot and cold on the romance, initially disapproving of Valencourt, but then, after discovering he is a relation to a society hostess she is trying to impress, turns around and encourages the young lovers. Only then she has another change of heart, and goes as far as to turn him out of the house. At the end of volume 1, there is a declaration and part of me was urging Emily to accpet, purely to end the story there and then, thus saving me several hundred more pages of her company. Alas, it was not to be.
However, for me, this is where the book starts to pick up. The aunt is taken in by and marries an Italian noble (well, we'll see about that bit) Montoni, and so the action moves to Venice, where Emily attracts admirers and declines them, her heat being otherwise engaged. After a bit of an altercation in which a friend of Montoni commits murder (casually, like you do), they all decamp to Montoni's castle in the Appennines, Udolpho. Here things take is distinctly darker turn, with the aunt being subject to pressure to turn over her lands to Montoni who, (colour me not surprised) has turned out to be a bad egg, a spendthrift and gambler. Not only has he come into the ownership of the castle in dodgy circumstances - where is the missing lady who was the heir to the estate prior to Montoni comming into ownership?. He's married her for the money and he wants it. This is in the midst of also turning into a bandit (saying it in Italian makes it no more attractive an occupation) and raiding the countryside for what he can steal. He has a number of friends staying in the castle and it's clear that they have some dark motive in mind for young Emily. During the stay here, there are a number of chills and terrors that shake Emily, but she seems to have grown some backbone, as the fainting distinctly decreases in frequency and it takes a lot more to induce such an episode. Good on ya, girl. One terror involves a veil over something that we undertstand to be a picture, and the significance of this is, again, revealed in book 4. She discovers that there is a prisioner in the castle of her native France and, with little evidence, decides that this is Valencourt. Nope. Turns out of have been a neighbour who has also fallen for her charms andm between him, her servant and her servant's admirer, they escape the castle.
Bizarrely, we then find them back in France and in the vicinty of the same chateau that was deserted in the midst of book 1. We meet the family and hear the tale of the haunted wing. Emily has to deal with her new-found admirer while dealing with some news that Valencourt has gone to rack and ruin in paris while she's been away. And here she is in danger of revertting to type, with what feels like a massive over-reaction to the news and the withdrawl of her affection from Valencourt. Oh deary me.
In the end it all comes out in the wash. There are a number of scares and those hares that had been set running earlier pop up and are caught. It all ties up very neatly, maybe rather too neatly. I still struggle with this idea of sensitivity being a virtue, Emily spends too much of her time fainting to function effectively, although she does seem to rise to the occasion when it is needed. I also struggled with the somewhat overlong and tedious attempts at poetry scattered through the book. I did read them, but it did turn into a skim read at times. I struggle with poetry at the best of times - and this was not poetry at its best. Was it worth all that frustration? Well yes. It's not going to be a book I come back to, but it does form an important point int the development of the novel. This gets referrenced numerous times, Northanger Abbey, for example, so it is a foundation work, if you like. It turned out better than it started, which is no bad thing. ( )
  Helenliz | Nov 1, 2018 |
Wow, this is one long tale of one gothic castle after another. Very convoluted tale of young girl who dad dies and is left to the machinations of her heartless aunt. Not much real horror, some spectre/ghosts but mostly this is a long gothic romance.

This is a rag to riches tale for the poor orphaned Emily and also for her penniless and somewhat weak Valancourt.

The audio read by Karen Cass is excellent. She is really great with voices for the various characters.

Point of interest, this story has a prominent role in Northanger Abbey ( )
  Kristelh | Oct 23, 2018 |
It was my own fault, not liking this book. Because who even picks up gothic 18th century literature to read for fun? I mean in my defense I tried to like it...but I couldn’t. I honestly would probably never read it again unless I needed to kill a crap load of time and didn’t have anything else (at all) to read.

Edit: I take that back. I really do take it back. I’d rather read nothing.

I bought this book because of how it was mentioned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and I after how much the heroin in there loved it, I was pretty sure I would too. See the funny thing is, when it arrived in the mail, I didn’t find a short, Northanger Abbey length novel as I had expected, rather a hefty, 600 page book. And, as I flipped through it, to make matters more interesting, I found paragraphs upon paragraphs of small font, large descriptions. *coughs*

I’m not going to say it was a waste of time, because after reading it, I felt I had been better exposed to the genre of classical gothic literature more than I had before, but like I said before, I didn’t like it. I even stuck through and read the whole entire thing. All 631 pages of it. (HA! That's a big lie... I read summaries for like the last 100 pages.) So many times I wanted to give up, but kept with it, in hopes that it would get better.

I can’t even say that I exactly liked any of the characters in it. Emily, was just a fainting, weeping girl without much thought other than to be restored to her Valancourt, and Valancourt, was just as emotional, and it got annoying. And speaking of crying, I swear Emily cried at least four different times on every single page. She cried when something was beautiful, when her father died, when she realised her love for Valancourt, when she was scarred. Everything made her cry. And it got annoying.

I'm crying just thinking about how many times people cried in this book.

I will say the size and the descriptions in this book were pretty amazing considering the fact that Ann Radcliffe did very little with her life and didn't even go to the places she was talking about... but that's about all I can think of it that I admired.
( )
  jlydia | Jun 25, 2018 |
Emily continued to urge her father the truth, which himself had impressed upon her mind.
     'Besides, my dear sire, poverty cannot deprive us of intellectual delights. It cannot deprive you of the comfort of affording me examples of fortitude and benevolence; nor me of the delight of consoling a beloved parent. It cannot deaden our taste for the grand, and the beautiful, or deny us the means of indulging it; for the scenes of nature – those sublime spectacles, so infinitely superior to all artificial luxuries! are open to enjoyment of the poor, as well as the rich.
[...] We retain, then, the sublime luxuries of nature, and lose only the frivolous ones of art.' (59-60)

I read this book in search of pre-1882 fictional female scientists. Emily St Aubert approximates one in some ways-- she is trained in reason, and she is able to control her emotions better than many of the men she encounters, she looks at plants-- but as I believe the above quotation shows, she is not one. Emily enjoys grand vistas, and her father is a botanist, but neither of them study nature in the way that we would now call scientifically. They appreciate it aesthetically; they are not out there to objectively analyze it, or to catalogue it in that way a Victorian might. Similarly, Emily might have a handle on her emotions, but it's not because of any kind of scientific training, more a general kind of intellectual training. Now, I think all of this derives from the same Age of Enlightenment set of values that, at the time The Mysteries of Udolpho was written, was giving birth to what we now call science, but it is not quite the same thing as science, and so therefore Emily is no scientist or woman of science; perhaps her father is a naturalist at best.

Also, can I say that I have now read two of Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novels, and both were exceedingly dull? I know the past is another country and all, that's what I've devoted my life to explicating, but how anyone found this book suspenseful is beyond me. The occasional snatch of spooky music is not enough to carry one through hundreds of pages of tedium before someone finally gets probably murdered over three hundred pages in. By that point, the eternally virtuous Emily had caused me to completely check out. I did dutifully plow through to the end, but by the end, the skimming was highly aggressive.
  Stevil2001 | Jun 8, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ann Radcliffeprimary authorall editionscalculated
BarbauldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bawden, EdwardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cass, KarenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Castle, TerryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cieślewicz, RomanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Costas Solano, Carlos JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dobrée, BonamyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dobrée, TerryToim.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dobrée, BonamyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dresner, Lisa M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eenhoorn, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farington, JosephCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
FERREIRA, LeyguardaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forkel-Liebeskind, MetaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fournier, NicolasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
FREEMAN, R. AUSTINIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garber, FrederickContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hornát, JaroslavTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hornátová, EliškaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, JacquelineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, JacquelineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LaPointe, CatherineIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larkin, AlisonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McDonald, LauraIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Niekerk, Sarah vanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Niepokólczycki, WacławTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pechmann, AlexanderEinleitungsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quayle, StevenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reynolds, S. W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
RHYS, ERNESTEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riffel, HannesHerausgebersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sanna, VittoriaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schweitzer, DarrellIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varma, Devendra PIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Fate sits on these dark battlements, and frowns,
And, as the portals open to receive me,
Her voice, in sullen echoes through the courts,
Tells of a nameless deed.
First words
On the pleasant banks of the Garonne, in the province of Gascony, stood, in the year 1584, the chateau of Monsieur St. Aubert.
Perhaps no work in the history of English fiction has been more often caricatured - trivialized, misread, remade as hearsay - then Ann Radcliffe's late eighteenth-century Gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho.
How strange it is, that a fool or a knave, with riches, should be treated with more respect by the world, than a good man, or a wise man in poverty!
...never looking beyond the limits of her own ignorance, she believed she hadnothing to learn. She attracted notice from all; amused some, disgusted others for a moment, and was then forgotten.
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Wikipedia in English


Book description
Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflection brought only regret, and anticipation terror.

Such is the state of mind of Ann Radcliffe's orphaned heroine Emily St Aubert, who finds herself imprisoned in her evil guardian Count Montoni's gloomy medieval fortress in the remote Appenines. Terror is the order of the day inside the walls of Udolpho, as Emily struggles against Montoni's rapacious schemes and the threat of her own psychological disintegration.

A bestseller in its day and a potent influence on Sade, Poe, and other writers, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is Radcliffe's classic work of Gothic fiction. With its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters' psychological states, the novel remains a profound and fascinating challenge to modern readers.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140437592, Paperback)

With The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe raised the Gothic romance to a new level and inspired a long line of imitators. Portraying her heroine's inner life, creating a thick atmosphere of fear, and providing a gripping plot that continues to thrill readers today, The Mysteries of Udolpho is the story of orphan Emily St. Aubert, who finds herself separated from the man she loves and confined within the medieval castle of her aunt's new husband, Montoni. Inside the castle, she must cope with an unwanted suitor, Montoni's threats, and the wild imaginings and terrors that threaten to overwhelm her.

This new edition includes an introduction that discusses the publication and early reception of the novel, the genre of Gothic romance, and Radcliffe's use of history, exotic settings, the supernatural, and poetry.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:47 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

"If beautiful, orphaned Emily St. Aubert is to resist the predatory demands of her new guardian, the inscrutable Signor Montoni, she must quell the superstitious imaginings that pervade her mind. Within the sombre walls of Montoni's medieval castle the boundaries of real and imagined terrors are blurred as Emily is drawn into a Gothic web of mystery and intrigue which threaten her not only with the loss of inheritance but also identity"--Publisher description.… (more)

» see all 12 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140437592, 0141191937

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