The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe was published in 1794 in four volumes.  During her time it became a bestseller.  The novel influenced many writers over the years, including Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Walter Scott.  This novel is the 25th novel I’ve completed from my 1001 list and the 5th and last novel I’ve completed for the Gothic Reading Challenge.

Not much is known about Ann Radcliffe.  One biographer, Christina Rossetti, tried to write a biography on her but eventually gave up since there wasn’t a whole lot of information available.  In fact there are no existing pictures of Radcliffe.  Here are the basic facts that are available.  She was born in London in 1764.  In 1787 she married William Radcliffe, a journalist who was an editor of the English Chronicle.  On most evenings he would come home late and Ann started to write to help pass the time.  The couple did not have any children, but it is reported that they were happy together.  She died in 1823.  During her lifetime she published six novels.  That isn’t much to go on, even for a creative biographer.

Even though there isn’t much information about Radcliffe’s life, her novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, is a classic Gothic novel.  It has a castle that is falling down, a devious scoundrel, physical and psychological terror, and a tormented heroine.  Radcliffe set the story in 1584.  It revolves around Emily St. Aubert, a beautiful young woman who was extremely close to her father.  After her mother’s death, Emily and her father travel from Gascony to the Mediterranean via the Pyrenees.  Along the way, they meet Valancourt, a young man.  The three of them spend several days together on the road.  Valancourt and Emily fall in love.

After parting from Valancourt, Emily’s father dies.  The orphan has to move in with her aunt, Madame Cheron, who is unfeeling and is only concerned with money.  Madame Cheron marries Montoni, an Italian nobleman.  Montoni tells Emily that she will marry one of his friends, Count Morano.  However, Montoni learns that Morano has lost his fortune.  He moves Emily and his wife to his castle to escape the marriage with Morano.  The young woman is upset since she thinks she will never see her love, Valancourt, again.

Morano arrives at Udolpho and tries to take Emily away.  Montoni thwarts his old friend.  Ironically, Montoni didn’t want Emily to marry Morano since he had lost his fortune and the truth was that Montoni was also broke.  Emily and her aunt want to leave the castle, but Montoni won’t let them until Emily’s aunt signs over her properties in Toulouse.  To make matters worse, the castle seems to be haunted.  Will Emily ever escape?  She has to keep her wits about her even though her youth and passions try to influence her to make reckless choices.

Overall I enjoyed this novel.  When I picked the five books to read for the Gothic challenge I was excited to read this novel since it plays a significant role in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  I wanted to learn why Austen despised the novel.  Unfortunately, I tackled this novel last and it was during my move from Boston to London.  It was a busy time and I don’t feel I gave the novel the attention it deserved.  I read it at airports, on the plane, in pubs, and in my new apartment.  At times I wouldn’t pick it up for days sometimes weeks.  And when I went back to it, I would have to refresh my memory.  This interrupted the flow and my enjoyment.

I will say that the end of novel was a letdown.  Radcliffe successively built up so much anxiety and then I had to laugh when I found out the “truth.”  Now I am curious to read Northanger Abbey, which will be one of my projects in 2012.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast (lesbianswhowrite.com) with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (iheartlesfic.com), a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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25 Responses to The Mysteries of Udolpho

  1. Jillian ♣ says:

    Oh, my. I don’t think Austen despised The Mysteries of Udolpho at all. I think she liked Radcliffe’s work. She is teasing the readers of Gothics, in Northanger Abbey, I think. Not the ones who can see The Mysteries of Udolpho for its message, but the ones who read it without understanding its message — for the ghosts and intrigue alone. I think it’s a fond tease — not meant as anything but.

    Austen (I think) goes for the same message in Sense and Sensibility as Radcliffe did in The Mysteries of Udolpho. It’s a caution to readers that to be too full of sensibility (and lacking in sense) is dangerous. I think Austen saw that message in Radcliffe’s work and was amused that so many readers missed it, and dove directly into sensibility (reading the works merely for the ghosts.)

    I wrote about Udolpho for the RIP Challenge, and Northanger Abbey right after. Fun!! 🙂

    • TBM says:

      Thanks for the input. From what I’ve heard and read, Austen was not a fan. But I appreciate your insight and when I read Northanger Abbey I’ll have two viewpoints to keep in mind. And great comparison with Sense and Sensibility. I can see why many readers got carried away with the ghosts. But I also enjoyed the psychological aspects and how everyone reacted to the terrors and imprisonment. It is fun to follow the characters during such trying times.

      • Jillian ♣ says:

        I haven’t read too much about Austen and the Gothics. I’ve just read the novels. I can’t imagine Austen reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, though, and not seeing that Radcliffe was making the very same point she was, in Sense and Sensibility (St. Aubert being Elinor Dashwood in the sense vs. sensibility debate, and Emily being Marianne Dashwood.)

        I feel like Austen had to satisfy the masses in her day, with happily-ever-after endings, and she’d have been keen enough to realize that Radcliffe was satisfying the masses with Gothic, while speaking a similar message. Could be Austen thought most Gothic was absurd but stood behind Radcliffe (for taking it a step further.)

        I could definitely be wrong, though. Only my current reaction. 🙂

  2. T.F.Walsh says:

    Really enjoyed your detailed review… I haven’t read this, but it might just be something I try out.

    • TBM says:

      Thanks T.F.! It is a fun book to read. I haven’t read too many Gothic books, but I am enjoying this genre. I may do the challenge again next year. Creepy castles, villains, and terror–good ingredients to a fun story.

  3. Kristina says:

    Thanks for that! I will have a read 😀 Sounds great! 😀

  4. TBM says:

    Hi Jillian. I love reading your thoughts about Austen and Sense and Sensibility. Like you, I haven’t read too much about what Austen really thought of Radcliffe’s work, but I love your interpretation. I’ll will keep your thoughts in mind when I read Austen next year. I can see the comparison between the two sisters and Emily and St. Aubert. I may have to look into Austen’s thoughts about Radcliffe before I tackle Northanger.

    • Jillian ♣ says:

      I’ll be curious to read what you dig up on Austen/Radcliffe. And of course, your thoughts on Austen as you read. Maybe we’ll read a couple of the titles at the same time next year. 😉

      • TBM says:

        I’m curious as well. I love when people read the same work they have different interpretations. That’s what I love about sharing my thoughts on my blog, to hear what other thought.

        We should read some together. That would be fun!

  5. Great review! I read a book on Gothic literature called The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance by Edith Birkhead last year and it had an entire chapter devoted just to Radcliffe’s works. Many have complained about the ending of The Mysteries of Udolpho but I guess most books from that era suffer from the same problem.

    Northanger Abbey is one of my favourite Austen novels. Hope you enjoy it!

    • TBM says:

      Thanks! After reading several Gothic novels I would be interested in reading Birkhead’s book. Especially if I continue with the challenge next year. I think it would give me a lot of insight.

      I don’t know if Radcliffe could have ended it differently. I don’t want to give it away, but at least she attempted a clever twist, even though it made me chuckle.

      I’m looking forward to reading Austen.

  6. Jo Bryant says:

    Loved this review – i have never read any of her writings – can’t wait to hear what you think of Northanger Abbey. I was and still am a die hard lover of P & P (I mean seriously – Darcy is so sexily tormented and tauntingly hard to read – what a character) – but NA is probably my favourite Austen book.
    Hoping the internet problems are a thing of the past – or are you still at the pub…

    • TBM says:

      I’m with you, I love P & P. What a great novel. And Darcy–I love him.

      Many people have told me that they really like Northanger so I am looking forward to reading it.

      As of now, the internet problems are gone. I’m hoping that issue doesn’t come up for some time. The pub is good fun, but I rather just enjoy a drink there and not try to use their wifi. Not the best connection.

  7. Seasweetie says:

    Thanks for the review, TBM. I have contemplated reading this, but I know the writing style from that area tends to bog down a bit too much for me, unless its absolutely excellent. Christina Rossetti, by the way, is one of my favorite poets.

    Are you all settled in and internetted? How is the bathtub looking these days? We’re waiting for apartment pictures!

    • TBM says:

      Hello! I’ll have to look into Christina Rossetti since I’m not familiar with her work. As for this novel, the language didn’t bog down for me, but everyone has different reading tastes. I found it to be a fun read. But I read a lot of novels from this time period.

      I am settled in for the most part and internet started yesterday. It was quite the process to get it set up. They actually hooked it up two weeks ago, but I had to wait for them to “transfer” the number…whatever that means.

      The bathtub is looking great! No more boxes. I’ll try to get some picture up for you next week.

  8. niasunset says:

    Hi dear TBM, it’s been for a long time that I read this book, how nice to find here now, because I really want to read it again and especially in its original language. This would be so nice for me, I added to my reading list. By the way, I haven’t known about the writer, thank you for the details.
    I learned that “The Mysteries of Udolpho”, by Ann Radcliffe, was published in four volumes on 8 May 1794 by G. G. and J. Robinson of London. The firm paid her £500 for the manuscript. The contract is housed at the University of Virginia Library. It would be nice to read this Gothic novel. But related to this reading, Jane Austen’s novel “Northanger Abbey” will be so interesting too to read. I have almost forgotten these books and writers, Thank you dear TBM, and have a nice and enjoyable readings, with my love, nia

    • TBM says:

      Hi Nia! Thanks for the additional information about the writer. That is pretty neat that the University still has the original contract. I am looking forward to reading Austen. If you reread the novel I would love to hear your thoughts.

      Hope all is well!

      • niasunset says:

        I will share with you when I read them again… It would be so nice to talk about our thoughts, You are welcome and Thank you, with my love, nia

  9. Carl V. says:

    I’m glad you were able to finish it and sorry that you had to read it in snatches here and there. I would imagine this kind of book does indeed suffer from not being able to just fully immerse ones self in it. One of these days I do have to get around to reading this. I did enjoy Northanger Abbey when I read it several years ago. It is a fun poke at gothic novels, or at novels in general, and I think you’ll enjoy it. And it is a fairly slight read.

    • TBM says:

      Hi Carl. Maybe you will have to sign up for the Gothic Reading Challenge. That way you can read this book and The House of the Seven Gables. I really enjoyed both of these novels. But if you do read Radcliffe’s work I do suggest reading it in a shorter amount of time. Otherwise the spookiness isn’t very spooky and the fun factor diminishes. I am looking forward to reading Austen’s work.

  10. IsobelandCat says:

    Northanger Abbey is a parody of works such as these, as are the novels of Thomas Love Peacock. I’m not wild about gothic, finding it rather overblown, but I do enjoy Thomas Love Peacock and Northanger Abbey.

    • TBM says:

      I haven’t heard of Thomas Love Peacock. I’ll have to look into his works. To be honest, I hadn’t read many Gothic novels, but there are quite a few on my 1001 list so I joined the challenge to make it more interesting. I wouldn’t say that they are my favorite types of novels, but I do enjoy breaking away from my normal reads sometimes. So far everyone has said that they enjoyed Northanger Abbey. Hopefully soon I can read it and see if I like it.

  11. The Hook says:

    Sounds like a cool read! Thanks for the recommendation.

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