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.