The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Posted October 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Gothic / 0 Comments

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann RadcliffeTitle: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Goodreads)
Author: Ann Radcliffe
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1794
Pages: 693
Genres: Classic, Gothic
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Emily St. Aubuert was imprisoned by her evil guardian, Signor Montoni. We follow her misadventures from his dark fortress in the Apennines as she suffers physical and psychological terror. The Mysteries of Udolpho is told in a dream-like hallucination that gives the reader a sense of Emily’s psychological state.

Writing a synopsis for this novel was one of the hardest things about this review. There are so many fragments in this book which makes it difficult to summarise what this book is about. Written in four volumes, Ann Radcliffe’s gothic romance manuscript has reported to have been brought for £500 in 1794, I’m not sure if that takes into account the inflation, if not that seems huge I can’t imagine an author receiving that much for a book nowadays.

This classic novel is a quintessential gothic romance but there are fragments of so many other genres with the supernatural, psychological mysteries that fill the pages. I really wanted to enjoy this book but I found it incredible wordy and at the time I was not in the right frame of mind for it, but I will do my best to be fair. The major downfall for me was the extensive descriptions of the landscapes; in particular Pyrenees and Apennines which while stunning just caused the book to drag on.

Emily is orphaned after the death of her father and taken in by her aunty Madame Cheron who married an Italian brigand Count Montoni. As romance between Emily and Valancourt, Montoni became increasingly frustrated and Cheron disapproved, believing him too poor, until she realised his aunt is Madame Clairval. When Count Montoni and Madame Cheron married he refused to allow Emily to married as he figured he could sell her. The major theme I got from this novel was the idea of indifference and the cruelty that can go along with it. Count Montoni is the definition of the gothic villain archetype; evil, sinister, greedy, and motivated by money. Even his marriage to Madame Cheron is for mercenary reasons and tried to force her to sing over her estates.

The novel is not all dark and gothic, I did mention that this was a gothic romance.  Emily’s devotion to Valancourt is unshakeable and his heart seems to belong to her as well. He does make some mistakes and his behaviour eventually causes Emily to renounce him but even after that her thoughts were always towards him. The devotion or loyalty is always fighting against the gothic themes of this novel as you expect from a novel like this. Even the romance between Annette and Ludovico’s is not always happy, especially when he locks her up for her safety. Gothic romance is an unusual genre and you always get a sense that the entire book is fighting to counteract the romance, but then this is the type of book I enjoy.

This is a hard novel to review, there are so many plot lines and if I go off and talk about each of them this post will just go on and on. I know trying to condense the review down to a blog post doesn’t really do the book justice but I tried to focus on the main plot line. While the book felt wordy and dragged on,  this was an interesting book, one I feel needs to be revisited sometime in the future. It would be interesting what I can pull out of the book once I have improved my critical reading skills. Have you read this classic? If so I would love to know your thoughts on it.

0 responses to “The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

  1. I’m struggling with it at the moment, so I’ve saved your post for later without reading it 🙂 Although I doubt something will happen in the book which can be spoiled… I’ll come back to comment when (and if!) I finish 🙂

  2. I’m struggling with it at the moment, so I’ve saved your post for later without reading it. Although I doubt something will happen in the book which can be spoiled… I’ll come back to comment when (and if!) I finish 🙂

  3. gypsyscarlett

    I tried a few times to read this book and each time gave up. Sorry to say that I found it tedious. Glad to hear that you got more enjoyment out of it.

    A fantastic, twisty Gothic is The Monk.

    • I would of thought this book would be right up your alley but I know how hard it was to I think giving up might of been a good idea. The Monk is on my list after a re-read of Frankenstein and Dracula for an online Gothic Fiction course I’m doing

  4. Ryan

    This is one of the books I wanted to get to this fall, but I’m thinking it’s not going to happen. I plan on taking even fewer review books next year, even after taking fewer this year. Maybe I can get to this one then.

  5. Donna Farrer

    These comments are not inspiring me to read this one, it may be one better left alone for me. I really have a hard time with the really old reads, so I will save my time for something else. I am into more current intense pyscho thrillers lately anyway. I have Don Grippo’s To Sleep…Perchance to Die on my bedside table at the moment. It’s a medical type thriller based on oral surgery, but don’t let that push you away it’s really quite good. His info at It’s pretty intense and I like that.

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