The Mysteries of Udolpho

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The Mysteries of Udolpho

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març 15, 2012, 8:38am

Why I created this thread: (just substitute The Mysteries of Udolpho for The Castle of Otranto). May contain spoilers, of course.

Editat: març 16, 2012, 5:49am

I'm finding it a little amusing how my tastes have changed over the years.

I attempted to read this when I was much younger - because of its connection to Northanger Abbey, if I remember correctly - and failed completely. I found the language of the first few chapters just too-heavy going and gave up on it.

A few decades (and a little education) later and I'm enjoying it precisely because of the language! This is another book where I'm just wallowing in it - lovely, classical-style processions of clauses.

On this point of the classical style: both the language used and the sentiments expressed are reminiscent of the Enlightenment - Emily and her father are very much on the 'sense', as opposed to 'sensibility', side. As the Gothic was a reaction to this sort of thing and leaning towards the 'sensibility' side, I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Radcliffe works out the combination-stroke-conflict.

març 16, 2012, 6:33pm

I now own the Folio Society set of the complete Novels of Ann Radcliffe - so I will be getting round to "Udolpho"... but not just yet...

març 18, 2012, 9:25pm


I agree! The language is so dizzy and gilded that I could bathe in it, like milk...such fabulous, fabulous stuff...


They're gorgeous, aren't they? Devendra Varma's introductions are worth the price of admisison alone, really (as with all of his introductions for FS...).

març 19, 2012, 6:31pm

> 3

They are indeed. Ardis Books was only offering incomplete sets for a long time, so when a complete set turned up on their website I jumped in straight away.

I haven't read any of them yet (not even the introductions), just checked them over for damage - and they are virtually pristine.

març 19, 2012, 8:35pm


I made a four hour round-trip to San Francisco to pick mine up in person, as I was terrified that they'd arrive damaged. Pristine! And relatively cheap, I suppose (by a student's standards :P )...

Anyway, give the introductions a go when you have a chance. Udolpho, The Italian, and A Sicilian Romance are the most intriguing of his essays...well, in my opinion.

His intro to Melmoth the Wanderer really made me look at the Gothic through a different lens and is probably what launched my interest in concentrating on it academically. The intro to Uncle Silas is really well done, too. I've yet to read his actual literary criticism, as it's out of print and a little pricy for me just now, but I look forward to something more in depth from him...

març 25, 2012, 2:03pm

Just a little comment, of not much relevance to anything in particular:

BBC Radio 3 is having an eight-day Schubert festival - playing nothing else but Schubert and, apparently, playing every Schubert piece over the eight days. I'm a fan so quite enjoying this.

Listening over the last couple of days to a lot of lieder and some instrumental music, both to the sound of the music and the translations of some of the poems he set, I've been struck by how close Schubert and Radcliffe (at least as far as the chapters of 'Udolpho' I've so far read) are within the Romantic movement.

The concern with 'the sublime', plus the intense depiction of emotion are there in both but I've also been getting a 'Germanic' feel from 'Udolpho' - or, more, particularly, her descriptions of landscape have been bringing strongly to my mind Caspar David Freidrich. Schubert's music and Radcliffe's writing both have the same 'feel' for me and I could fully believe in them both coming out of the same cultural background. I can quite imagine Emily singing one of Schubert's lieder for her father and him listening appreciatively (it would actually be too late for them).

#2 - On this point of the classical style: both the language used and the sentiments expressed are reminiscent of the Enlightenment - Emily and her father are very much on the 'sense', as opposed to 'sensibility', side. As the Gothic was a reaction to this sort of thing and leaning towards the 'sensibility' side, I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Radcliffe works out the combination-stroke-conflict.

Of course, the language and some of the sentiments expressed are Enlightenment; but what she actually says is mostly full-blooded Romantic. She looks back to Enlightenment ideas much as Schubert looks back to Mozart and beyond; neither lets themselves be much bound by that to which they look back.

març 27, 2012, 11:44am

I'm realising that it's necessary to treat this book as a fantasy, set in a fantasy land.

So much of it seems firmly of the eighteenth century, rather than the sixteenth, in which it's set. Following the wanderings of Emily and her father on Google Maps is proving to be singularly fruitless, too. I don't think Ms Radcliffe paid that much attention to geography.

abr. 18, 2012, 11:58am

Okay, forget everything I said about the classical language, Schubert, Romantic views of the Sublime, and so on; this is a damned eighteenth-century soap and it's trying my patience.

Editat: maig 19, 2012, 8:36am

Ye gods this book is tedious! I'm determined to get through it but it's turned into a real, hard slog.

There's an irony to it. Without Radcliffe's frequent descriptive passages, which, quite often, contribute little or nothing to the story, the book would be a fraction of the length. Yet it's the descriptive passages that I find most bearable.

The worst of it is Radcliffe's complete lack of talent when it comes to characterization. I don't believe in any character in this book - not even Emily. Even under the provocation of Emily and Valancourt's horrendously interminable and maudlin parting scene the at the end of Book 1, the two lovers weren't real enough to me for me to want to kick them.

ETA - I wanted to kick Mrs Radcliffe at that point, though.

maig 19, 2012, 8:47am

I've just been looking up dates because the book frequently reads to me like a schoolgirl effort. I used to write stuff with the same duff characterization, substituting lots of text for proper skills, when I was a teenager (not that I was ever a schoolgirl, I hasten to add).

It turns out that she was thirty when this was published and it was her fourth novel. Now that's just bad.

maig 19, 2012, 8:56am

The trouble, with reading, eighteenth-century literature, is that you develop a compulsion, to stick in, extra commas.

maig 19, 2012, 9:11am

#11 - I did get my ego massaged, though. Reading Radcliffe's descriptive passages about Italy after Emily and co had left Venice, they brought to mind Claude Lorrain before I saw the mention of him on the Wikipedia Radcliffe page. So I'm feeling quite smug about that.

However, I'm damned if I know if that throws a good or a bad light on Radcliffe's descriptive writing.

maig 19, 2012, 7:06pm

Well, this is bad news. I've bought a box-set of all her novels.

maig 20, 2012, 4:22am

Sorry houseful, but it may just be a matter of individual taste, of course.

Editat: maig 20, 2012, 5:03am

#13 - I'm damned if I know if that throws a good or a bad light on Radcliffe's descriptive writing.

I've been thinking of this business of painters influencing Radcliffe's descriptive passages - the Wikipedia page mentions Claude and Salvator Rosa (I don't know the latter) and some of the early passages reminded me of Caspar David Freidrich, who was a contemporary of Radcliffe.

I think it does read as if Radcliffe is describing paintings rather than real landscape. Her descriptions are almost completely visual and she doesn't give you any real feel for heat or cold, or the discomfort of the carriage, birds singing or insects biting, the smells of things, and so on. She's clearly thinking in static pictures.

This goes back to the impression I mentioned in #8 that the thing seems set in a fantasy world. Now it's making me think of some old, Ruritania-set movie where the action takes place against a back projection and the scenery outside windows is clearly a painted backdrop.

But, though the descriptive passages don't really work when set against some other authors' descriptive writing, they do, somehow, manage to work on their own terms - they do entertain (me, at least). I'm just struggling to define those terms. Perhaps I could best describe them as an entertaining confection.

Editat: maig 20, 2012, 5:02am

Having got exasperated into posting #10 and #11, I do have to admit that things did warm up a little when the action finally got to Udolpho. And it started to show promising signs of Gothicism again. I still didn't find it that convincing, though.

Oh, and talking of 'exasperated', that silly trick when Radcliffe first had Emily lift the veil on that 'painting' and then didn't tell us what so shocked her almost had me throwing things about.

maig 20, 2012, 2:02pm

I've recently had an demonstration of how state of mind and/or environment can affect the readability or otherwise of a particular text, or a particular author.

For years I've been trying to work my way through the first volume of Dickens' collected journalism (Sketches by Boz and other early papers 1833-39). After 16 years of picking it up, struggling through one essay or story, and putting it down again, not to be picked up again for months, I'd only got halfway.

Then last month I decided to take the book to work, in order to read it in my lunch break. I've finished it now.

it's not always easy to read at work, given that internet surfing is permitted, and there are various conversations going on; and on the other hand, we have been busy, and lunch has often been skipped or curtailed. I think maybe, in this case, it's that we (i.e. the workforce) happened to mirror the lower middle class world that Dickens was writing about.

I was considering taking Wilde's De Profundis to read next, as we currently overlook Reading Gaol (well no, we overlooked it when we were on the 4th floor; we can't see over the wall any more, but we are on the opposite bank of the Holybrook). However, I expect the environment wouldn't help to read this text,

Editat: maig 30, 2012, 7:14pm

I am now in the seriously weird position of being really involved in this story, while, at the same time, being seriously annoyed with Ann Radcliffe for constantly spoiling my reading of it.

As a side note for prospective readers: if you find Schrodinger's cat confusing, you really DON'T want to think too hard about Emily St. Aubert's dog.

maig 30, 2012, 11:21pm

>19 alaudacorax:. Ha, ha, ha. Confession time: I've never really "got" Schrodinger's Cat. I understand the idea, I just don't understand why it's so "profound."

I'll have to give Emily St. Aubert's dog a try - it might shed light.

maig 31, 2012, 5:30am

#20 - I warn you, he really won't stand up to too much thinking about. And on the rare occasions when he can be said to be definitely in existence, he's possibly the most useless dog in the history of humanity's relationship with the species.

maig 31, 2012, 5:06pm

I've finished it.



And I have no idea if the dog lived happily ever after.

maig 31, 2012, 7:07pm

>22 alaudacorax:. So, what's the final verdict? Did you like more than you didn't?

Editat: juny 1, 2012, 5:08am

#23 - I almost wish you hadn't asked me that. It's such a vast, rambling, Gothic edifice of a book that I think it's probably impossible to sum up in just a few words - or just a few sentences, for that matter.

Your question, "Did you like more than you didn't?", neatly condenses down all the thoughts buzzing round my head.

I think I'm going to have to have a go at a detailed review of this - just to better get to grips with it.

An irony: I was quite recently thinking that, once I'd finished this, I was never, ever, touching another novel by Ann Radcliffe; now I find myself seriously considering re-reading this one - there are so many questions I haven't satisfactorily answered.

Like: Did she outline the plot before she started, or did she make it up as she went along - particularly concerning the late revelations of earlier mysteries? Was I justified in the suspicion I had in places that the dearth of information on Radcliffe's life is because she was actually more than one writer? Are there good bits in it, really, or have I been involuntarily 'dumbed-down' by the long exposure to Radcliffean prose?

ETA - Before I do anything else I'm going to re-read Northanger Abbey - I've been eagerly looking forward to that all the way through 'Udolpho'.

Editat: juny 5, 2012, 6:09am

#23 - Actually, I think I'm starting to suffer from some kind of literary form of Stockholm syndrome. I've quite warmed to it - to the extent that I'm now wondering whether I want to spend the time for another read-through.

It's like a more extreme form of my relationship with Dracula: there I can see the faults but I love the book anyway. Here, it's not so much that I can see the faults as that they're beating me over the head.

I found the interminable depictions of emotional turmoil extremely trying - the Radcliffean method being to throw hundreds and hundreds of words at the job - but I've just been reminded by another thread that their length would not necessarily have been seen as a fault by the original readers, who were reacting against the Enlightenment's repression of such emotional stuff, and enjoyed a good wallow.

On the other hand, I think Radcliffe's characterization is amateurish for whatever period.

The weirdest thing for me is my reaction to her descriptions of scenery. She was quite good at what she was doing and I found these passages enjoyable. But what was it that she was good at doing? I often got little or no sense of place from them and was constantly reminded of Romantic-era paintings - I was seeing pictures rather than being in places. Did I like them simply because I like the paintings of which they reminded me? This is just one of questions that's prompting me to consider a re-read.

For me, at the moment, this book is rather like finding an elephant in one's garden. I imagine it would be quite difficult to get the mind round the question of how good an elephant it was.

Edited to clarify that last sentence.

juny 2, 2012, 7:04am

Blow it - I'm reading it again. I may be some time.

juny 2, 2012, 12:30pm

>26 alaudacorax:. You should read Northanger Abbey first - would serve as a good palate cleanser.

I do understand you complicated thoughts regarding the book. I have not read it, but I have read enough of Radcliffe to have similar thoughts. Her writing is not the best, but amps up the melodrama with somewhat stock characters. The over-emotion of the book was definitely part of the time in which it was written, which can be seen in other books like Rousseau's Emile or Richardson's Clarissa or ever Werther. Lots of feelings, emotions, swooning, crying, etc, etc.... I think a lot of it was sincere writing, but I think a lot of it also was making fun and being ironically playful with all the stereotypes and tropes.

Even a bunch of Austen's earlier unpublished novels were part and parcel of this kind of thing. But with Northanger Abbey, Austen found her own more mature voice that acknowledged the Gothic influence but going beyond to the genius writer she was.

juny 5, 2012, 6:21am

#27 - ... but I think a lot of it also was making fun and being ironically playful with all the stereotypes and tropes.

You remind me how little eighteenth-century reading I've done - as my comments on depictions of emotional turmoil implied (#24), I very much haven't got the proper context for this.

As I've probably said elsewhere and often - the more books I read, the more books I realise I haven't read.

juny 5, 2012, 9:21am

>28 alaudacorax:. I totally understand where you are coming from. The more I read, the less I know.

I find the historical context in which a novel was written a fascinating aspect of fiction. But others pay no attention and can enjoy it just the same. Really it's just a preference/taste.

juny 7, 2012, 11:25pm

This is the second time I have tried to read it. I'm up to the part when the Aunt has dismissed Valancourt. I did struggle with all the discriptive stuff before Emily's father died and had to skip bits. Did any one else struggle with this? There was a mention of Rosa's paintings somewhere in all the discription. I really need to get this read before I re-read Northanger Abbey.

Editat: juny 8, 2012, 7:28am

#30 - The bit you are on, clarelouise, about living with the aunt, is what prompted me, above, to call it a 'damned ... soap'. However, I thought the book got noticeably more engaging once the action moved to Udolpho itself, not too far into Book 2, so it's worth sticking with it.

I'm not sure whether, by 'descriptive stuff', you mean the long descriptions of scenery or the long descriptions of Emily's various emotional turmoils; but, either way, the impression I got was that, once at Udolpho, they were reined back a little and the story, as a result, picked up some momentum.

juny 8, 2012, 7:21pm

#31 Thanks. 'descriptive stuff' - long, long descriptions of scenery. I can just about handle the soap. I am finding that the story is starting to pick up now they are in Venice. I am now determined to get through i,t although will not get much reading done now as it is a long weekend here. Will have to wait until Tuesday and the commute to work.

juny 16, 2012, 7:42pm

I have finally finnished it. I nearly did cartwheels down the isle of the train. All that stopped me were the people in the way and the fact that I can't actualy do cartwheels. Thanks for your encoragment alaudacorax. I really glad I read it although I did skip bits. Now I can get back to Northanger Abbey. Oh, did I like it? For the most part yes, but I think Radcliffe could have done with an good editor.

juny 17, 2012, 12:01am

alaudacorax and clarelouise you are slowly influencing me to go back and finish this myself.

juny 17, 2012, 1:58am

Brother_salvator I think its worth fininshing. It does get better from Venice onwards. I'm up to chapter eight of Northanger Abbey and I really enjoying it this time round because of reading Udolpho.

juny 17, 2012, 2:17am

It's really, really, really time I gave this a reread...

juny 17, 2012, 6:57am

I've actually moved so far on this that I'm coming round to the idea of buying a nice hardback copy at some point; though I have to say that it's its literary significance rather more than its literary merit that's drawing me in. For instance, you can clearly see the line running through this from Castle of Otranto to Uncle Silas.

Funnily enough, I'm finding the second reading easier. I'm still a long way away from getting my thoughts on this one into coherent order, though.

juny 18, 2012, 6:39pm

I heartily suggest Folio Society's six-volume Radcliffe! I think I still have photos up on our 'Interesting Editions' thread...

juny 19, 2012, 4:43am

#38 I wish I had that set. I'm going to try to get it second hand. Thus far I only have ebooks fo Raddcliffe - good for the commute but thats about all!

juny 19, 2012, 11:24pm

I have now completed my task of reading both Udolpho and Northanger Abbey! Northanger Abbey made much more sence this time round.

juny 20, 2012, 5:32pm

> 40

Congratulations. I still have both of these novels in my TBR pile (who am I kidding? I have whole TBR rooms).

I've also got a DVD of the BBC's 1987 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, which represents Catherine Morland's taste in reading with occasional tableaux from her "horrid novels", which disrupt the normal costume drama tone with stylised lighting and camera angles, and bursts of rock guitar.

juny 22, 2012, 6:50pm


Thanks. The DVD sounds good. I'll try to get a copy.

juny 23, 2012, 6:46pm

>41 housefulofpaper:. LOL, TBR rooms! I know the feeling.

juny 6, 2013, 10:00pm

Fantastic thread - makes me nostalgic to read it again...

Okay, bullet points drawn from my hazy memory, with spoilers aplenty, so beware:

* The writing style was luxurious. Radcliffe wasn't a great stylist but I recall being pleasantly surprised by the descriptive passages. The poetry was harder to take and I could have done without most of it.

* The first of the four segments made for an unexpected social critique, almost a proto-Austen (I'm guessing, I haven't actually read Northanger Abbey yet) in seeming to point out that the real horror wasn't to be found in ancient castles but in the heart of society. I found Radcliffe did an amazing job at conveying just how stranded Emily was and I had sympathy for her through much of the book.

* She really sucked at writing romance, though.

* She was also nauseatingly polite, sweeping all nasty rumours under the carpet by the end of the book. This was the most annoying portion of Udolpho and meant, among other things, that I was never convinced of Montoni's villainy. In fact, he seemed one of the most decently behaved men in the story, his villainy never amounting to more than straight-forward land acquisition schemes.

* Read back to back, The Monk makes an excellent tonic. Lewis wrote it with a mind to correct some of Radcliffe's failings, which he certainly did (thought he then added in some of his own).

* Biggest problem: Once Emily escaped Montoni's clutches, all narrative action ground to a miserable halt. The final quarter of the book consisted of nothing but the aforementioned carpet cleaning, Emily hanging out with a carbon copy of herself and Emily getting married to the wrong guy. Pardon me for sounding like a shipper but am I the only one who found Valancourt a needy, whiny, useless twerp?

* To end on a note of praise, the middle portion set in Udolpho and other gothic locations was incredibly compelling, a real page-turner, and I fell in love with the book due to that. In spite of the wonky finale, I still haven't lost the feeling. Yes, this is one I will definitely have to read again someday. As reading memories go, it is one of the ones I cherish.

juny 7, 2013, 10:20pm

Like nymith, I just found this thread. On the odd chance that the principal participants look back at this discussion I must make two observations. All the stuff about Schubert and Caspaar David Friedrich is very well, though only in a very generalized way of suggesting Zeitgeist (in the true sense of the term, not the pretentious half-wit way it's used on LT). Salvator Rosa (post #16) is another matter, not leastwise because Mrs Radcliffe was unquestionably familiar with his work. Also, in post #17, aluadacorax missed an allusion which would have been perfectly obvious to many classically-educated readers of that day, namely the Veil of Timanthes. It is, of-course, no rap that on a-corax that it flew right by two-hundred years later. Meanwhile, as the Founding President of the Greater Worcester range Radcliffe Adoration Society, may I invite all concerned to take a turn together through the many throbbing pages of The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents? -- Fra Goduardo

juny 9, 2013, 2:33pm

I've got the Folio Society collected novels of Ann Radcliffe, still waiting for me to read them. I'm trying not to look at posts that give away parts of the plot (even though I've read plot summaries/critiques in the past and no doubt, when I do read these books, those old "spoilers" will spring back into memory, running ahead of where I am in the book!)

Editat: juny 14, 2013, 12:12pm

#44 - Fantastic thread - makes me nostalgic to read it again...

It's sort of seduced me. My attitude has changed 180° since some of my early, disparaging posts in this thread and now I'm really looking forward to a third read - it's such a big, rambling read that I still feel I haven't properly got my head around it all.

#45 - Embarrassed to say that I'd never heard of the Veil of Timanthes. However, on reading a bit about it online, I didn't get the application. No doubt I'm missing something - care to elucidate a bit, H M? And was Mrs Radcliffe classically educated? Women mostly weren't then.

Having said all that, and in line with my recent about-face, I really do intend reading more of her novels at some point.

juny 14, 2013, 4:01pm

In rebus 45 atque 47. The allusion is this: the Veil of Timanthes is emblematic of things which are of such intensity that they can never be worthily portrayed, or, by extension, seen by unworthy eyes. Thus, Mrs R puts herself in the role of the artist who retains the veil for us, even though her character gets to see what's behind it. See Franciscus Junius, De picture veterum, and/or Philipp Fehl, The Art of mourning. I know nothing of Mrs R's formal schooling, but I am confident in saying that she would have known the Iphigenia plays from which this rhetorical figure is derived. She very likely would have known Gluck's operas on the same themes

nov. 28, 2013, 7:07am

Looking at some of my earlier posts here - 'damned ... soap', and so on - I have to report the latest twist in my relationship with this book: I've just bought the Folio Society set mentioned in #3 to #6. So I suppose I'm very much a fan, now.

I have been rather looking forward to my third read of 'Udolpho' - whenever I get round to it - and I have been thinking that I'd like to read her other novels some time, and this was quite cheap (I assume because the slipcase has a tiny bit of damage on two of the front corners - the books are mint) and so I couldn't resist it.

Editat: set. 12, 2018, 1:12pm

So glad to have finished this one! Eased in with A Sicilian Romance (1790) and The Romance of the Forest (1791), in order to brace myself to go the distance with the 1794 book. It was a struggle at times, but the ending turned out to be surprising, once the many layers were magnified and brought to light. On now, to The Italian (1797) ... there is a fifth novel I have yet to find. The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789).