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?
The Mysteries of Udolpho
With the new warm weather, and 70+ degree temperatures, I’ve been thinking about Summer Reading. Though April’s a little premature for summer, we’re going to add a Summer Reading Category to Snell Snippets. Bloggers can add their favorite summer reading picks. (Or bemoan summer reading assignments-The Odyssey is one that I’d put in that category!) I like mysteries in general, and particularly classic, 19th century ones in the summer. In the past that’s included books like The Woman in White. This summer, I’m looking forward to reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and possibly Armadale. I also like the kind of beach reading that you can read in a day. One of my best friends keeps up a steady diet of Trollope and Eliot throughout the summer, but I’m not that disciplined! What are your favorite summer reads? I also think that some authors and books lend themselves particularly well to summer. F. Scott Fitzgerald springs to mind – I brought Tender is the Night with me to the French Riviera, but I don’t think the synergy was quite what I hoped for. I’d also be interested in starting a book club, if people were interested in reading any of the same books over the summer.