(E-)Book Read! THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO by Ann Radcliffe

Title: The Mysteries of UdolphoThe Mysteries of Udolpho

Author: Ann Radcliffe

Publication date: 1794

Original Language: English

Read in: English

Number of Pages: 953

Fiction/Non-Fiction

Where From: Smashwords

One Star



First sentence: "On the pleasant banks of the Garonne, in the province of Gascony, stood, in the year 1584, the chateau of Monsieur St. Aubert."

P. 99: "Emily could no longer stifle the anguish of her heart; her tears fell fast upon her father’s hand, which she yet held."

Last sentence: "Ludovico had some difficulty to prevent her going into the supper-room, to express her joy, for she declared, that she had never been so rejoiced at any accident as this, since she had found Ludovico himself.

From Wikipedia: Emily St. Aubert is the only child of a landed rural family whose fortunes are now in decline. Emily and her father share an especially close bond, due to their shared appreciation for nature. After her mother’s death from a serious illness, Emily and her father grow even closer. She accompanies him on a journey from their native Gascony, through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast of Roussillon, over many mountainous landscapes. During the journey, they encounter Valancourt, a handsome man who also feels an almost mystical kinship with the natural world. Emily and Valancourt quickly fall in love.

Emily’s father succumbs to a long illness. Emily, now orphaned, is forced by his wishes to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron, who shares none of Emily’s interests and shows little affection to her. Her aunt marries Montoni, a dubious nobleman from Italy. He wants his friend Count Morano to become Emily′s husband, and tries to force her to marry him. After discovering that Morano is nearly ruined he brings Emily and his wife to his remote castle of Udolpho. Emily fears to have lost Valancourt forever. Morano searches for Emily and tries to carry her off secretly from Udolpho. Emily refuses to join him because her heart still belongs to Valancourt. Morano′s attempt to escape is discovered by Montoni, who wounds the Count and chases him away. In the following months Montoni threatens his wife with violence to force her to sign over her properties in Toulouse, which upon her death would otherwise go to Emily. Without resigning her estate Madame Cheron dies of a severe illness caused by her husband′s harshness. Many frightening but coincidental events happen within the castle, but Emily is able to flee from it with the help of her secret admirer Du Pont, who was a prisoner at Udolpho, and the servants Annette and Ludovico. Returning to the estate of her aunt, Emily learns that Valancourt went to Paris and lost his wealth. In the end she takes control of the property and is reunited with Valancourt.

I struggled to read this book… I struggled really hard. Because, as you perhaps already know, I hate not finishing a book I started  So I wanted to finish it, but it took me a really long time.  

First of all I want to say, this lengthy gothic romance was written at the end of the 18th century, although the story was set in the 16th century.   On publication it became very popular, but now it is merely known because it is mentioned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (the reason why I read it in the first place).

The reason why I didn’t like it are manifold, but the main one was the fact that it was too long, due to the endless description of landscapes, especially mountains.   These go on for pages and pages; I think that if they were left out, the novel wouldn’t have been half this long.  Of course, this fits completely into the period the novel was written, as was the use of the word "sublime" , a concept that dates from the 18th century, and that was further developed by John Burke in 1756 (A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful).   So ‘They had no words to express the sublime emotions they felt", or something was ‘sublime beyond any thing that Emily had ever imagined’, or they didn’t  "look back without some regret to the sublime objects they had quitted’, or they indulged in ‘sublime spectacles’, and so on.  It just was too much.  Connected to this are all the ruins that are mentioned in this book.  Ruins of castles and forts are everywhere, because, at that period, they were thought to be the height of romantic element in a landscape (more information about ruins here).

And then the fainting…  Emily is always fainting, and if she isn’t, somebody else is.  Or the secrets everyone has.  When asked about them, they are never told immediately, but are revealed a few hours later, most of the time around midnight.  And they are never as shocking as you are made to believe.

However, although this book clearly wasn’t meant for me, I can see what the attraction of it was when it was first published.  So if you like a fainting heroine with an angel-like character, connected to some shady characters and some seemingly supernatural events, you’ll have to read this book.

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12 Comments

  1. This is on my reading list for next semester and I’ll admit, the size is pretty daunting! To make it worse the blurb doesn’t even appeal to me…I’m not looking forward to reading this one! I normally love this kind of book so I’m hoping it surprises me but at the moment I’m putting off starting it!

    • Like you, I normally like this kind of book, Hannah, but this one was really too bad. But perhaps you’ll like it. I hope I didn’t frighten you away from it. I just got so frustrated reading it, that I let myself go in my review.
      Thanks for your comment!

      • Well since it’s on the reading list I’ve got no choice but to read it! I’ll still be approaching it with an open mind so *fingers crossed* it will appeal to my taste! No problem!

      • Luckily that everyone has different tastes… So I hope you will enjoy it.

      • No doubt when I have finished it I will be reviewing it so I will be sharing my opinion!

      • I have added your blog to my Google Reader, so I will not miss any of your future posts.

      • Thanks! I hope they don’t disappoint!

      • I am certain they won’t! 🙂

  2. It really seems to show how storytelling has evolved and reading a book like this I guess helps us to appreciate that it isn’t such a bad thing, to evolve. Some language hasn’t evolved that much, like legal language for example. But interesting with hindsight to understand what it is that slows us down and doesn’t gel, I just had a 2 week of a book that was more fun to write about than it was to read even though I found the subject very interesting.

    • I think you are right, Claire… It shows that we have less patience to read extensive descriptions. The story must go on. Perhps a result of our getting used to all these new media, like Twitter, Facebook, and the likes.
      Thanks for your comment!

      • Had to share this with you, published today and I’ve just read now on The Guardian site:

        Influence of classic literature on writers declining, study claims http://gu.com/p/37hjk/tw

      • Thanks… I am going to read it right away; it looks interesting

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