Friday, November 20, 2015

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

The Mysteries of Udolpho (the beautiful Penguin paperback edition I read pictured above came in at 875 pages), was my choice for the “Very Long Classic” in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 hosted at the blog Books and Chocolate. At first, I found this book very, very tedious.  There are ENDLESS descriptions of scenery, much of which makes the heroine, Emily, (a) cry and then (b) spontaneously compose a sonnet inspired by such landscape. These poems (sometimes pages long) are also included in the novel. 

Eventually, however, I just gave in to the silliness of it all and found it almost unintentionally funny after that. I lost count of the times our Emily fainted and/or burst into tears. It is definitely worth the experience of reading this title if you want to know the kind of books Jane Austen was mocking in Northanger Abbey as this title is one of the grandmothers of all gothic romances and was apparently very popular in its time.

The story is impossible to synopsize, so much happens to Emily St. Aubert., a young upper class woman who grew up in genteel poverty despite her father’s aristocratic background (the story is set in the late 1500s, but you would never know it except for the fact that this is stated in the first sentence of the first chapter).  Suffice it to say that there are plenty of castles and mansions with secret staircases, hidden rooms, ghostly sightings, there are mustache twirling villains and hidden agendas galore, which include forced marriages, stolen inheritances and other common misunderstandings.

Normally I prefer to read annotated versions of Victorian novels. However, this edition was published in the Pocket Penguin Classics Victorian bestsellers series and they do not have any notes or introduction. Which is just as well, I suppose, since this would have made the book even longer!  I am not sad to have read it, but I think it is safe to declare that I will never read any Ann Radcliffe again!


  1. All I can say is :)

    Well, actually I can say more--it is an over the top, gothic romance, but worth reading just because so many authors I love read it, mocked it, emulated it, and reread it.

    I "reread" a graphic version of Udolpho once and thought it was perfect--captured all the fun without the tedium.

    1. A graphic version would be really interesting. In retrospect, the book was kind of fun. I wonder what now mocked 21st century works will still be read 100 years from now? The Twilight series maybe?