There are times when a book comes into your life at the precise moment you NEED it. Such is the case for The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. After the death of a beloved grandfather (who was more like a father to me) without a will and the estate entailed away from me and my line of the family, I related to Emily St. Aubert more than I would have a year ago. Her adventures are exciting and fantastic, but the healing properties of this book reach far beyond that.
This book is most famous for being mentioned in Jane Austen’s book, Northanger Abbey. Austen’s heroine, Catherine Morland, reads The Mysteries of Udolpho and is so affected by it that she continually faints and sees conspiracies all around her. When I originally read Northanger Abbey, I had no idea that The Mysteries of Udolpho was a REAL book. I thought it was some Gothic horror created from the mind of Austen. When I found out it was a book by a very real author, I immediately made a trip to the bookstore for my own copy.
Amazon’s plot synopsis leaves much to be desired:
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. After Emily St. Aubert is imprisoned by her evil guardian, Count Montoni, in his gloomy medieval fortress in the Appenines, terror becomes the order of the day. With its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters’ psychological states, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a fascinating challenge to contemporary readers.
Emily DID spend a lot of time as the prisoner of Count Montoni, but that part of the story lasts less than half of the book. Because of the name of the book, I kept expecting more of the evil Montoni and a horrid return to Udolpho, but I came to the end of the book and the estate was dispatched with a sentence to a character that we never meet.
More importantly, are the themes of integrity that are scattered throughout the book. Emily is the perfect heroine. She is never tempted to vice, even when it may be her only escape from a worse vice, and she is repaid handsomely for it.
Here are my favorite quotes:
And my personal favorite:
Despite Emily’s constant fainting (an average of once a chapter), she is the kind of heroine that governs herself and her passions with conviction. She is completely without ridicule and it was a joy following her on her adventures.
About halfway through the book, I worried that all the loose ends would never be tied up to my satisfaction. I have been betrayed by so many books in the past, that I didn’t believe that Ann Radcliffe could possibly solve all the mysteries that she had lain before me. I shouldn’t have worried. She did an excellent job of writing a complete book with no plot holes. Ann Radcliffe’s final words of the book are:
Sometimes I wish I could invent a time machine just to thank dead authors.
For ALL the quotes from The Mysteries of Udolpho: