Northanger Abbey

The Mysteries of Udolpho

I recently finished The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.  I have read her Romance of the Forest, and Udolpho had been on my list for awhile.  It was most famously lampooned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  In my freshman year of college, I took a course on gothic literature and we actually read excerpts from The Mysteries of Udolpho.  Our teaching fellow explained that it even though it was one of the formative (and genre-defining) gothic texts, it had been so thoroughly panned in the course feedback that they decided to drop it from the course.  One of my classmates said that she had read it on her own and it was a waste of time, and that she felt very disappointed in the mysterious “reveal.”  So I certainly had a good deal of forewarning, but I still wanted to read it myself.  Udolpho’s heroine is the young, beautiful and virtuous Emily St. Aubert.  She is a Frenchwoman and a good deal of the novel is her traversing the ‘sublime’ landscapes of France, Italy, the Alps and the Pyrenees.  After the death of her parents, she is spirited away by her aunt and new, villainous step-uncle Count Montoni to Italy.  They first travel to Venice, and then to Montoni’s ancestral pile-the Udolpho Castle of the title.  There, Emily becomes a prisoner, and realistically becomes concerned that Montoni will sell her to the highest bidder.  Radcliffe is also famous for creating the “explained supernatural”-a trope probably most exploited by (and familiar to viewers of) the Scooby Doo series.   Terry Castle is an academic who wrote the introduction to my Oxford edition, and she makes a very good case for The Mysteries of Udolpho‘s contributions to our current understanding of death and memory.  However, if you’re a general interest reader, I’d probably advise you to skip it.  If you’re interested in an early gothic story, I’d recommend The Monk by Matthew Lewis.  It’s much juicier, and a good deal shorter than 672 pages! Has anyone else read The Mysteries of Udolpho?  What do you think?