The mysteries of Udolpho

by Ann Radcliffe

Paper Book, 1998





Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1998.


Ann Radcliffe's orphaned heroine Emily St. Aubert finds herself imprisoned in her evil guardian Count Montoni's gloomy medieval fortress in the remote Apennines. 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 best-seller in its day and a potent influence on Sade, Poe, and other purveyors of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Gothic horror, The Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the most important works in the history of European fiction. --from publisher description

User reviews

LibraryThing member Ganeshaka
I found The Mysteries of Udolpho to be like being on an Alaskan wilderness fishing trip without the insect repellent. All the elements were in place for a good time...the fresh air, the beauty, the fish...everything was just so - but for "bzzz" "slap" "bzzzz" "whack" "bbzzzzz""thwap".

The frequent, and sometimes beautiful, descriptive passages concerning the Gascony countryside, the Pyrenees, the Alps, were interrupted, invariably, by a black, cloud, of no-see-um, commas that bit me repeatedly - b,z,b,z,z,z ,z, z,z z,z,z,.

Then too, I stumbled time after time over the syntax - most often a log of a preposition a ",that," or a ",which," "therefore"; or appositive phrase. For example,

"Annette obeyed, and Emily returned to the agonizing considerations, that had assailed her before, but which she, at length, endeavored to soothe by a new remark. If the stranger was Valancourt, it was certain he had to come alone, and it appeared, therefore, that he had been able to quit the gardens, without assistance; a circumstance which did not seem probable, had his wound been dangerous."

Again, to use an Alaskan image, from a different season, the experience was like following a footpath through a winter wonderland but where the snow had melted and refrozen, so that every third or fourth step, one's contemplation of the scenery was disturbed by one's foot breaking through the crust.

I would rather have watched the movie - if only there were a movie. If only Stanley Kubrick had chosen to make a film of Udolpho instead of Thackeray's Barry Lyndon. The same techniques he used in the latter - of natural but dimmer lighting indoors and sweeping vistas outdoors - would have been well suited to the strength's of Radcliffe's visual imagination. Further, Kubrick's touch with villainy, and dread, would have served him well in depicting Count Montoni, the interior of the Castle of Udolpho, and the scene of Ludovico's disappearance.

The narrative is engaging and moves apace, the characters do unfold, the scenery is lush, the chateau and castle are creepy...but you do have to hack and hack and hack to clear away the brush. What's left is a Romantic, gothic tale - with a dash of feminism - about a young woman's perils and obstacles in obtaining the property and love she deserves.

And I almost forgot to mention - the gratuitous and random interjections of poetry. Well, to continue with the fishing trip analogy, they're a bit like the off-color jokes of a guide/pilot - sometimes perfect, sometimes boring, and sometimes embarrassing.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
This is one heck of a long book, but I actually ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would, and was surprised to find that I rather wanted to binge-read it (I expected it might be one of those books that languished on my bedside table for a long time). It's an extremely odd story, filled with funny anachronisms, weird side-plots, and more fainting by the heroine than seems healthy for anybody. It's also got some pretty suspenseful moments, and the eponymous mysteries ... well you'll just have to read the book to find out about those.

Lots of gothic delights to be had (or at least to roll your eyes at). It almost seems to me like Radcliffe might be having a little fun with the gothic tropes here, and she has some excellent set-piece scenes that work really nicely.

Odd? Yes. Long? Yes. Silly, at times? Yes. Worth it? You bet.
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LibraryThing member keristars
This is a very long and sometimes very boring book, but I think it's well worth reading - especially in a group setting! (because it's fun to complain about the long and boring bits with other people, or to laugh at how silly Emily is.) I think the Gothic novel genre is fascinating, and of course Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho is one of the earlier and more well-known examples.

Fans of Austen, especially Northanger Abbey, will find that familiarity with Udolpho provides a greater richness to Austen's novels. But more than that, Udolpho gives insight to 18th century thought regarding Deism, Sensibility, Benevolence, patriarchy, feminism &c &c and it comments upon philosophy that came out of the Enlightenment, such as Rousseau's idea that man is naturally good (as compared to Locke's statement that man is naturally wicked).

Beyond the academic worth, I still think the Mysteries of Udolpho is fantastic and it is something that I'm glad to have read and will likely find myself reading again in the future.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
What fun! A long (600+) book, but so much fun. Written in the late 1700s, this book is a sweeping gothic romance, with poetry, sweeping poetic landscapes, a thwarted love affair, evil step-uncles, secrets (some even kept from the reader but known by the protagonist, our dear Emily!), ghosts, castles, Carnivale in Venice......come on, now....who can resist all this? Due to a couple of extraneous tangents in the plot, which I felt were completely unnecessary, I only give out four stars. It was not particularly profound, but boy, oh boy, was it fun?!… (more)
LibraryThing member souloftherose
”She saw herself in a castle, inhabited by vice and violence, seated beyond the reach of law and justice, and in the power of a man, whose perseverance was equal to every occasion, and in whom passions, of which revenge was not the weakest, entirely supplied the place of principles.”

Ever since I first read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, I've wanted to read The Mysteries of Udolpho, the book Northanger's heroine, Catherine Morland, found so fascinating. But, I've spent years putting off reading Radcliffe's most well-known work because I'd heard it's long and boring and because it was published in the 18th century and I wasn't sure I'd be able to understand it; basically I was scared.

Then before rereading Northanger Abbey earlier this year I decided I was going to try and read an 18th century gothic novel. I picked The Castle of Otranto by Hugh Walpole because it was the shortest and surprised myself by quite enjoying it. I decided this meant there might be hope I could read Udolpho and provided myself with the Oxford World’s Classics edition from the library.

I found this book a lot more enjoyable than I expected to. I can understand why people find it boring and silly; there are a lot of passages describing the beautiful scenery of the south of France and Italy where the story is set, Radcliffe writes in very long sentences, the characters will randomly compose poetry which Radcliffe includes in the text and the heroine faints a lot. It took me quite a while to get used to Radcliffe’s prose and I found I needed to read this book at a much slower pace than usual to appreciate it but once I’d managed to adjust to this I took a great deal of pleasure in this dreamlike tale.

Several aspects of the book surprised me. The first was that the heroine, Emily St Aubert, is a real heroine, not a pathetic girly-girl despite the number of times she faints. Although essentially a demure heroine, Emily’s struggle against her evil guardian is something she is left to cope with on her own; orphaned, separated from her fiancé, with only a maid who is almost Shakespearean in her loquaciousness to support her, and she is successful in this lone struggle. Yes, in her final escape from the castle she is assisted by a man, but in my eyes, by that point, the battle has already been won.

Secondly, one of the things Radcliffe seems to be trying to get across with this book is the idea that self-restraint should be exercised over one’s emotions rather than giving them free rein. This doesn’t mean that she thinks emotions are bad, her long descriptions of the scenery are, after all, trying to evoke emotions of awe and wonder in the reader, she does seem concerned that sensibility can be dangerous if encouraged to excess. This made me wonder how much of Jane Austen’s parody of The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey was at least in part, a parody on the public reaction to Radcliffe’s book rather than the book itself. If Catherine Morland had read Udolpho more carefully she would have known not to encourage her sensibilities and the embarrassing scene with Henry in his mother’s room could have been avoided.

A note on the Oxford World’s Classics edition: I found the notes in this edition really very helpful as in addition to explaining any 18th century words or phrases a 21st century reader would be unfamiliar with; they also gave a lot of background to the areas of 18th century philosophy and thinking which Radcliffe was drawing on. The introduction by Terry Castle was also very good but, like most introductions, I wouldn’t recommend reading it until after you’ve finished the book.
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LibraryThing member Laurochka
Orphaned Emily endures grief, ghostly apparitions, imprisonment in the gloomy Udolpho, frustrated love and a sequence of fantastic coincidences...but ultimately lives happily ever after. Utter trash but classic trash! Quite enjoyed it though ;-)
LibraryThing member MickyFine
Emily has always had a sheltered and happy life with her parents on their small estate in Gascony. But when tragedy strikes, a combination of events brings Emily to the castle of Udolpho in Italy. While there, her guardian, Montoni, threatens her life and her sanity. In the isolated fortress filled with tales of ghosts and murders, Emily's chances of escaping and reuniting with her true love, Valancourt, seem dubious at best.

This novel is not for the faint of heart. And I don't mean that the subject matter is particularly terrifying. Instead, if you pick up this book, be prepared for a novel that is very much of its period. It is a Gothic novel with the biggest capital G you can imagine. There are tragic deaths all over the place, murders, possible ghosts, a heightened romance that is constantly under threat, and Emily only managed to make it through a single chapter without crying once. With all of that going on, I did enjoy it and all of its very conventional genre conventions. This is not my first Radcliffe novel nor will it be my last. And I'm pleased that I now know exactly what is lurking behind the black veil that Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe spend so much time discussing in Northanger Abbey.
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LibraryThing member RandyStafford
Accomplished, refined, and beautiful, our heroine Emily St. Aubert finds herself orphaned, her finances in doubt, and surrounded by uncaring, vacuous, and social climbing relatives. Refusing to marry her true love Valancourt, she accompanies her aunt to Italy. There, they both become the prisoners of the sinister Count Montoni.

His Castle Udolpho has all the stock trappings of the Gothic: the medieval architecture, the heavy tapesteries, the veiled and oddly familiar portraits, requisite secret passages, horrible sights in the dungeons, mysterious apparitions, hinted murders, and ghostly voices. Through it all, Emily finds time to write a fair amount of poetry. (It's not for nothing the novel's subtitle is "A Romance Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry".)

Radcliffe was one of the most influential Gothic writers, and this 1794 work is generally regarded as her best.

Is it worth reading today solely on its own merits? Not quite. Radcliffe's story is too long, her reveries over landscape wearisome. There is a flavor of earnest moral instruction as Emily not only struggles to master her emotions, but Radcliffe, in her contrived solutions to supernatural mysteries, is intent on stamping out the unreasonableness of superstition.

Yet, there is not just great sentiment but psychological insight too. And the ending is surprising despite the inevitable familiarity of many of the story's trappings.

Matthew Lewis _The Monk_ is much more fun, a distillation of much of Radcliffe's images and tropes into a delightfully lurid and supernatural plot. (To extend Stephen King's metaphor that the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole's _The Castle of Otranto_ was the genre's Elvis Presley and Lewis' novel its Sex Pistols, one is tempted to say this is its prog rock.) But students of the genre and the novel in general will want to read one of the most popular Gothics and study Radcliffe's technique -- including her somewhat clumsy backstory passages.

Finally, it would be a mistake to leave the impression this is just a novel of fear and anxiety. The love between Valancourt and Emily makes this a romance in every sense of the word.
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LibraryThing member jon1lambert
This edition makes up volumes 45-47of The British Novelists with an essay; and prefaces, biographical and critical, by Mrs Barbauld
LibraryThing member pj77
The Mysteries of Udolpho is a fantastic book for lovers of a great gothic romance. Austen's reference to The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey was intriguing and led me to Radcliffe's work. Her writing is full of beautiful landscape descriptions and her character development in the first half of the novel captivates you. It is a long novel, but it keeps you in suspense until the very end and takes you on a rollercoaster ride throughout the last 100 -150 pages! The romance, gothic castles, horror, intrigue and mystery are everything you could wish for in a novel of this genre. It is a really great read and I recommend it to all.… (more)
LibraryThing member marcelrochester
Emily’s a bitch. I liked Du Pont & was disappointed we didn’t find out his fate. The mysteries’ being solved was on the anticlimactic side.
LibraryThing member kemeki
This work was definitely written in a different time! Parts were a bit slow, which was not what I was expecting. And I wasn't expecting it to be 600+ pages either. The quintessential Gothic novel - it turns out to be true, but if you read it - I recommend just skipping the first volume entirely! And I almost never condone not reading a work in its entirety. It's an interesting work, griping in parts, and I can't wait to re-read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, I know this will give me new perspective!… (more)
LibraryThing member edella
`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. Rreflections brought only regret, and anticipation terror.' Such is the state of mind in which Emily St. Aubuert - the orphaned heroine of Ann Radcliffe's 1794 gothic Classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho - finds herself after Count Montoni, her evil guardian, imprisions her in his gloomy medieval fortress in the 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 best-seller in its day and a potent influence on Walpole, Poe, and other writers of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Gothic horror, The Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the most important works in the history of European fiction. As the same time, with its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters' psychological states, it often seems strangely modern: `permanently avant-garde' in Terry Castle's words, and a profound and fascinating challenge to contemporary readers.… (more)
LibraryThing member ari.joki
While some of the features of the work are rightly outmoded, several features do occur in modern literature. The complicated interwoven plots have nothing to desire compared to modern multi-volume fantasy compendia.
LibraryThing member jontseng
Evocative landscapes but turgid in many places. Lots of frightened heroines but not much really happening.
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This gothic romance novel is beautifully written. It is very slow by modern standards and a bit dull at first, but it must be understood in its own terms, with long evocative descriptions of the countryside and of people's feelings. The gothic horror elements are well drawn and not a huge part of the novel, but atmospheric and intriguing, and eventually explained in rational terms. The various plot strands come together in the end, with the coincidences one would expect of a novel of this period. Spellbinding, as long as one reads it slowly and sees it in perspective.… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
Give me a book about a troubled orphan, whose fate and fortunes are left in questionable hands and whose love life is in a shambles, and I'm a happy reader.

Ann Radcliffe's "The Mysteries of Udolpho" has all that in spades. The unfortunate heroine Emily St. Aubert struggles to keep her emotions in check as she is essentially imprisoned in the Gothic castle of Udolpho by the dastardly Montoni. Cue plenty of weeping and fainting as events unfold at the creepy castle.

Going in, you should know that Radcliffe's book is a Gothic romance -- so there are plenty of overwrought scenes and vivid (often delicious) descriptions of the landscape that serve as a precursor to the emotions evoked in the following chapters. Yet, the story itself (especially volumes two and three) is not only compelling, but at times is sublime.

I'm told (by a friend who is an English professor) that Udolpho was the Harlequin romance of its day -- all of the famous literati were secretly reading it but unwilling to admit it. I can completely understand why, as the book, written in 1794, is still readable and enjoyable even today.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
1004 The Mysteries of Udolpho Volume One, by Ann Radcliffe (read 16 Apr 1969)
1005 The Mysteries of Udolpho Volume Two, by Ann Radcliffe (read 21 Apr 1969) I finished the second volume of this two-volume work on 21 April 1969. Written in the 1790's, it is quite a story. Slow-moving, inartful, it yet caught me up. Emily St. Aubert, a fainty girl of 20, is taken by her mean aunt to an Italian castle, Udolpho, where she had various scary adventures. She finally escapes fairly easily, and the rest of the book traces the difficulty of Valancourt--abandoned, rejected, but then triumphant. Sir Walter Scott does all this much, much better. Is it worthwhile to read more of these early Gothic novels? [I must have concluded it was not, since I don't recall reading any others.]… (more)
LibraryThing member Stevil2001
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member mnicol
I finished the whole 672 pages expecting a final revelation on the fate of the faithful dog, Manchon. But Manchon disappears on page 260.
Still, you cannot appreciate Northanger Abbey if you have not read this book. Emily is 100 times more plucky than flighty Catherine Morland - but by no means as interesting.… (more)
LibraryThing member dandeethings

Very lengthy book with scenery described in agonizing detail - oddly characters descriptions are limited or nonexistent. I agree with other reviewers that the main character and other women in the novel are prone to weeping for hours on end or fainting. So much so, that you want to say "buck up and get on with it." I stayed with it and enjoyed the ending which was less scenery descriptive and more action driven.… (more)
LibraryThing member CollectorOfAshes
Being my first read of the First Lady of Gothic fiction, I can say that I'm a bit underwhelmed. The story has some occasionally excellent descriptions, lots of emotion, and generally moody atmosphere. However, often the descriptions are generic (must every single sea view have sails?) and the characters so overwrought that either they're fainting or they're failing to communicate, and because of this lack of communication, many trials and sorrows result. There's also a lot of deus-ex-machina going on which leaches away the gothic atmosphere. Must everything be of human origin that at first seems supernatural? Radcliffe seems to think so. However, with all that said, I learned a few new words and the story had enough complexity and emotion to propel me towards its close. Strangely, there's also quite a bit of profane oaths which generally reflect the syncrenistic view of Christianity the author possesses -- that is, having a form of godliness but denying its true power, and that is most disappointing of all.… (more)
LibraryThing member emanate28
Gothic novels aren't to my taste and I probably wouldn't have read this except for its role in Austen's Northanger Abbey. Unsurprisingly, I was generally exasperated with the heroine's endless weeping and fainting spells, and the weepy and loquacious lover. I ended up skimming most of the scenery descriptions and skipped the poems altogether. The story felt rambling, and even the chief villain suddenly disappeared at a certain point in the tale.

I did however find the final explanation of the mysteries satisfying, and the desire to find out the truth certainly kept me reading to the end. I also liked some of the characters; Annette was particularly vivid and Ludovico was perhaps the actual hero of the tale.

I don't think I'll read any more of Radcliffe's works, and while I'm glad I did try this one, will most certainly not read it again!
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LibraryThing member otterlake
First came across a reference to this book in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. A lot of fun.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
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
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