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The Mysteries of Udolpho (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

The Mysteries of Udolpho has been thrilling readers for over two hundred years and holds a critically important place in the history of gothic literature, the rise of romanticism, and the development of the modern detective novel. The novel has something for everyone: Although Radcliffe subtitled The Mysteries of Udolpho "a romance," this gothic thriller is also in part a travelogue, a sentimental novel, a novel of manners, a female Bildungsroman, and a mystery--it even contains a selection of poems. While ...
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The Mysteries of Udolpho (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

The Mysteries of Udolpho has been thrilling readers for over two hundred years and holds a critically important place in the history of gothic literature, the rise of romanticism, and the development of the modern detective novel. The novel has something for everyone: Although Radcliffe subtitled The Mysteries of Udolpho "a romance," this gothic thriller is also in part a travelogue, a sentimental novel, a novel of manners, a female Bildungsroman, and a mystery--it even contains a selection of poems. While readers will enjoy wondering whether heroine Emily St. Aubert will ever escape the clutches of her step-uncle Montoni to reunite with her stalwart lover Valancourt, they will also ponder the eerie music, odd family resemblances, unexpected corpses, and sinister disappearances that haunt Emily--and whose mysteries Emily seeks to solve.
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Introduction

INTRODUCTION

Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 novel The Mysteries of Udolpho has been thrilling readers for more than two hundred years with its creepy castle, menacing villains, and mysterious secrets. This gothic thriller holds a critically important place in the history of gothic literature, the rise of romanticism, and the development of the modern detective novel, and it was also hugely popular, both in its day and in later years. The novel’s enormous popularity may be due to the fact that it has something for everyone: Although Radcliffe subtitled The Mysteries of Udolpho “a romance,” this gothic thriller is also in part a travelogue (containing Radcliffe’s celebrated landscapes), a sentimental novel, a novel of manners, a female Bildungsroman, and a mystery, complete with a locked-room puzzle -- it even contains a selection of poems. Most prominently, however, The Mysteries of Udolpho showcases Ann Radcliffe’s ability to engage her readers’ imaginations and to create page-turning suspense over the outcome of the love story and thriller she skillfully intertwines. While readers will enjoy wondering whether heroine Emily St. Aubert will ever escape the clutches of her step-uncle Montoni to reunite with her stalwart lover Valancourt, they will also ponder the eerie music, odd family resemblances, unexpected corpses, and sinister disappearances that haunt Emily -- and whose mysteries Emily seeks to solve.

The author of The Mysteries of Udolpho led a much more sedate life than the long-suffering heroine of her thrilling novel. When she published The Mysteries of Udolpho in 1794, Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764-1823) was just shy of her thirtieth birthday. She had begun writing shortly after her marriage to journalist William Radcliffe in order to pass the time on those evenings when her husband worked late, according to the Memoir by her early biographer Thomas Noon Talfourd. Radcliffe’s hobby quickly became a profitable venture. Already the author of several successful earlier novels when she wrote Udolpho, Radcliffe was paid the handsome sum of 500 pounds for its publication, an amount so high that one man bet 10 pounds that the report of it was false. After her next novel, The Italian, appeared in 1797, Radcliffe mysteriously stopped publishing her writing, leading to erroneous reports that she had died or become insane. Like her life, however, Radcliffe’s death bore little resemblance to her novels. According to Talfourd, she died peacefully in her bed of complications from spasmodic asthma at the age of 58.

Radcliffe’s work influenced an impressively broad spectrum of her contemporaries and of later writers. Montague Summers notes some of the most famous of the plethora of writers touched by Radcliffe’s “macabre” influence: Matthew Gregory Lewis, Charles Robert Maturin, Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Bram Stoker -- even the Marquis de Sade. On a lighter note, Lynne Epstein Heller suggests that Radcliffe may have had a great influence on many of the Romantics, among them Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, and Emily Brontë. Birgitta Berglund adds Radcliffe’s contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft, the Romantics Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, and the Victorians Dickens and Thackeray to the list of those Radcliffe inspired.

The most famous instance of Radcliffe’s influence may occur when Jane Austen invokes The Mysteries of Udolpho in her posthumously published gothic parody Northanger Abbey (1818). Bad characters, like the boorish John Thorpe, dislike Udolpho, apparently without having read it. Conversely, the tasteful Henry Tilney recalls “finishing it in two days, . . .hair standing on end the whole time.” Likewise, Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland enthuses, “Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. . .” Catherine almost succeeds too well in “spending her whole life in reading” Udolpho: As Heller notes, she spends much of the novel unraveling the troubled web she has spun by reading all events through the lens of Udolpho, no matter how inapposite that reading might be. Yet while Udolpho may threaten Catherine’s peace, it is also her shield. “[W]hile I have Udolpho to read,” she exclaims, “I feel as if nobody could make me miserable.”

Radcliffe’s influence also extends to modern popular fiction. Devendra P. Varma, for example, views her as a progenitor of the modern detective story, while Mark S. Madoff sees her more specifically as a progenitor of the locked-room mystery. While modern mysteries -- and gothic novels -- may not be exactly like Udolpho, Emily is indeed a type of proto-detective. Just like a modern detective, she identifies mysteries, gathers information, and explores leads. Emily is barred, however, from solving these mysteries on her own. All is eventually revealed, but not as the result of Emily’s inquiries, and so it is perhaps best to regard her as an “almost detective.”

Modern readers may be struck by the amount of description in The Mysteries of Udolpho, especially as it is not the fashion in the novels of today, which tend more towards action than description. The first edition of Udolpho had no illustrations, and it is certainly difficult to conceive of illustrations that could do justice to the spectacular landscapes that adorn Radcliffe’s novel. Oddly, according to Varma, Radcliffe hadn’t actually seen the beautiful landscapes she describes in Udolpho. Ironically, “royalties for The Mysteries of Udolpho enabled. . .Radcliffe to explore that scenery which she had heretofore only imagined.”

So, how did Radcliffe invent those celebrated landscapes? Varma notes that “descriptions of foreign scenery in the journals of travellers furnished raw material for her. . .genius.” Besides contemporary travel writings, other sources for Radcliffe’s landscapes may have included poetry and landscape paintings, particularly the paintings of Salvator Rosa, Gaspar Poussin, and Claude Lorrain.

Radcliffe’s frequent repetition of landscape scenes may serve a hidden purpose: Varma suggests that these scenes are actually used to create a contrast to “the enactment of. . .awe-inspiring horrors that follow in quick succession at Udolpho.”

This potential purpose behind her landscapes appears to have been lost on Radcliffe’s contemporary reviewers. When the first edition of Udolpho appeared in 1794, several journals reviewed it, mainly positively. Reviewers were ambivalent about Radcliffe’s landscapes, however: They acknowledged that the landscapes were lovely, but they found the descriptions too frequent and a bit repetitive. The British Critic notes Radcliffe’s “lively and interesting descriptions of scenes and places,” but suggests that Radcliffe’s “talent for description leads her to excess.” The review continues:

We have somewhat too much of evening and morning; of woods, and hills, and vales, and streams. We are sometimes so fatigued at the conclusion of one representation of this kind, that the languor is not altogether removed at the commencement of that which follows.

Likewise, The London Review complains of Radcliffe’s “tedious prolixity in her local descriptions,” and The Critical Review grouses that “in the descriptions there is too much. . .sameness: the pine and the larch tree wave, and the full moon pours its lustre through almost every chapter.”

Reviewers responded similarly to the poems that Radcliffe sprinkles throughout Udolpho, often presented as the heroine Emily’s compositions. The reviewers generally praised Radcliffe’s poetry, and The Critical Review and The Monthly Review each reprinted a sample poem for their readers, but they thought that the poems unduly interrupted the action of the novel. One reviewer suggested that the poems be published in a separate volume so that they could be properly appreciated. Modern readers might achieve this effect simply by skimming the poems on the first read and perusing them at leisure once the mysteries have finally been revealed.

Another phenomenon that may attract modern readers’ attention is the extreme frequency of the fainting spells suffered by Emily St. Aubert. Indeed, David S. Miall has calculated that someone [usually Emily] faints approximately once “every 48 pages” in Udolpho. These fainting spells may be related to Emily St. Aubert’s status as an “almost detective,” for Emily tends to faint just as things are getting interesting, as when she sees a forbidden scrap of writing or an awful sight behind a tapestry. Besides keeping Emily from discovering the truth she so desperately seeks to learn, these fainting spells also raise the level of suspense for readers, the gratification of whose curiosity is similarly delayed.

Another motif readers may notice is that of books and reading. As Ellen Moers aptly notes, Emily “always manages to pack up her books” when she departs on a journey -- even though she may be traveling on a moment’s notice. While Emily hauls her books over the Pyrenées, the Alps, and the Apennines, she seldom gets to read them. Instead, her books are curiously used as a foil for the drama that surrounds her. Emily often will take up a book simply to throw it down again in contemplation of some new distress. Emily is not the only reader in the novel. Her love Valancourt woos her by comparing notes on authors with her and swapping one of his books for one of hers. The stoic Count de Villefort reads the Roman historian Tacitus. Even servants read in Udolpho -- the noble Ludovico reads a story about a noble ghost from a book lent to him by the faithful housekeeper Dorothée. They too all tend to read when something distressing may happen, reinforcing a view of books as bulwarks against misfortune.

Despite her immense influence and popularity, Radcliffe’s works fell out of fashion for a time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Thackeray lamented the neglect of Radcliffe during the 1860s thus: “Inquire at Mudie’s, or the London Library, who asks for the Mysteries of Udolpho now?” Similarly, one lonely fan in 1900 wondered, “Does anyone now read Mrs. Radcliffe, or am I the only wanderer in her windy corridors. . . ?” Throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, however, critical interest in Udolpho and Radcliffe’s other works has burgeoned, and her novels have now assumed their place in the English literary canon.

Many readers have felt the same way that Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland does about The Mysteries of Udolpho’s cheering powers -- while one is reading it, the rest of the world seems to slip away. Perhaps because of this seemingly magical ability to draw readers into its compelling story, Udolpho is particularly enjoyed by readers seeking a respite from life’s vicissitudes. At the end of the novel, Radcliffe expresses her hope that reading it has eased the pain of mourners, and Sir Walter Scott likewise compares the reading of Udolpho and similar novels to “the use of opiates,” noting their “most blessed power” to aid the sick and the solitary. These assessments of the novel’s compelling power to take readers out of themselves are well founded, but one needn’t be grieving, ill, or lonely to enjoy Udolpho. In reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, everyone can savor a refreshing escape from the everyday.

Lisa M. Dresner has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. Part of her dissertation, Woman, Detective, Other: Theorizing the Female Detective in Literature, Film, and Popular Culture, explores representations of female “almost detectives” in the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, and Charlotte Brontë.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 51 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(22)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

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1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 2, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A classic everyone should own!

    This is my favorite novel ever! I stumbled across it beacuse Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" was heavily influenced by this classic book, and name-dropped it several time. This book was instrumental in shaping the modern detective novel, and is drenched in gothic atmosphere. There's mystery, suspense, romance, drama and it's even a travelogue of sorts. It's an ambitious read, but thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    A Truly Captivating Novel

    I'm still envolved in the book at the moment. And, despite a slow start, it quickly got me interested and now I am captivated by it. I find myself even shouting out exclamations for the characters like one does in a movie theater when the actors start walking towards the weird light and the creepy music starts playing. I can't wait to find out what happens next!!!

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2004

    The Best Book I Ever Read

    I would greatly recommend The Mysterys of Udalpho, by Ann Radcliffe, to any adult or young adult who loves a suspenseful plot with an added bonus of romance. The Mysterys of Udalpho tells the classic story of good versus evil. The book¿s focus is on a young orphaned heroine, Emily St Aubert. Radcliffe does a brilliant job in showing Emily¿s growth physiologically as well as psychologically throughout the book. Emily is held a prisoner at the castle of Udalpho, where it is hard for her to tell reality from fantasy. The constant twists in the plot keep you on the edge of your seat as you are reading. The intricate plot comes together well with an exceptional ending that has you smiling and shaking your head in disbelief.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2005

    Great book!

    The book started out slow, but once I got into it there was no putting the book down. There are so many mysteries throughout the book that it only adds to the intrigue. The author does well in answering all of the questions you form while reading the book. It was a great romance with adventure. I would recommend this book to any serious reader.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    The Mysteries of Udolpho

    I first heard about this book when I was reading Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'. It made this book sound so interesting I just had to read it. I am only 14, but it is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in literature.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2012

    Disapointing digital copy

    Google's digitaization of this classic is at times impossible to decipher the original word. With numbers and various puncuations thrown in place of letters the text finds itself struggling to convey the intended meaning. To truly enjoy this tale look for a better digital copy.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2011

    Exciting but a bit underwhelming

    Written in 1794, Udolpho has served as the prototype for most detective novels and horror stories for the past 200 years. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to my expectations, but was still enjoyable. While yes, there were may parts that were genuinely suspenseful and exciting, and Radcliffe did create a masterfully woven mystery that incorporated events and clues from throughout the book. But as a piece of literature, it just seems to lack focus. It was almost like she wanted it to be as exciting as possible, and went out of the way to manufacture extraordinary events that felt simply thrown into the story (mountainous bandit pirates?). At the beginning of the story, Radcliffe's detailed description of landscapes can be extremely excessive, but do taper off towards the end of the book. The most contrived part of the book was the poetry. Now I do adore poetry, but it just did not have a place in this novel. The narration would simply halt to say "here are some lines written by Emily (the heroine)", and then go back to where the story left off. Also, the characters tended to be quite stoic, and never evolved out of the good/evil archetypes. But this novel was not meant to be a detailed analysis of human nature, but a gothic horror story, and it did manage itself quite beautifully to that end. And for a 18th century housewife who never wrote a book until she was thirty, this hefty novel was indeed quite an accomplishment. So one the whole I deem this an indulgent bit of mystery and excitement, but not something that leaves a lasting impression.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2004

    Super read!

    Amazing book that kept me hooked all the way to the end. I fell in love with these characters. This book goes through all the emotions! It's great!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2008

    Mysterious and Fantastic

    This was an awesome read. It does start out very slow but it's worth sticking to it. It is full of adventures and mysteries. Quite fabulous.....I definitely want to read more of her.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2014

    A

    At over 700 pages, this seems to be the entire novel, but again, barely readable. Google should not offer such a bad copy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2014

    A

    Another disappointing scan.

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  • Posted June 13, 2014

    DO NOT ORDER THIS BOOK until you know your version is readable.

    DO NOT ORDER THIS BOOK until you know your version is readable. I just received my order and I'm very disappointed that B&N would allow a book with miniscule print to be sold online! I will have to return it; it's over 300 pages and I will need a magnifiying glass to read it! I've always been very happy with my B&N orders, except for this one. The book is being returned immediately.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2014

    I LOVED THIS COVER! THIS IS not ABOUT THE BOOK itself but u

    I LOVED THIS COVER!




    THIS IS not ABOUT THE BOOK itself but unfortunately the print in this edition is SO miniscule I, a young person with perfect vision, got a headache straining my eyes to read the print. So unfortunate but such a good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2011

    Buy the real version

    Theres too many strange characters and typos. About to buy the real version

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Creepy and long but worth it.

    I read this book years ago, and it was very lengthy and drawn out. But overall I enjoyed it. It's a true Gothic novel; seemingly every character has sinister motives. And the locations are all dark and mysterious. One of the great mysteries of the novel isn't explained real well. The nefarious characters are contrasted with truly benevolent people, and they all get their just rewards in the end. This book is helpful to read if you plan on reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Ms. Austen references Udolpho often.

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  • Posted January 14, 2011

    Not Worth Free

    Filled with confusing characters and poorly organized. Better off actually buying the book.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Very Enjoyable

    The first time I ever heard of this book was when I read Jane Austens Northanger Abey. This book plays a role in the other and so I was curious. I found this book very enjoyable and am looking forward to reading more of Radcliffe's novels.

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  • Posted February 18, 2010

    What a great book!

    Radcliffe illustrates every scene so thoroughly that the reader experiences all the same fear, empathy, and intrigue as the beautiful Emily. This heroine is remarkably selfless and her moral convictions and discipline are inspiring.

    The only tedious parts of the book, for me, were some of her descriptions of the landscapes which were quite loquacious, though I imagine I would have enjoyed them more were I not so anxious for the next action scene. This curious impatience is probably more to her credit than otherwise.

    Overall the book is sweet, intriguing and terrifying. I could not read it when at home alone...or at night...or really any other time that is else wise conducive to hearing bumps in the night! : )

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  • Posted February 15, 2010

    Fantastic Classic Read!

    I was curious about The Mysteries of Udolpho after reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey - and it did not fail! It was a fantastic read. The characters are so interesting. They are sad and happy, gallant and mischievious. I couldn't stop reading it. The story keeps you guessing and boy was I wrong when I discovered the truth! It is the perfect mixture of a romance story, mystery, thriller, etc. Wait until you read about the black veil, what are the noises she hears, and who is the mysterious nun??? Now I will admit I am not big on poetry and skipped most of that, but it not take away from the story, so don't let the poetry stop you from reading it, if you are like me. This was a great story and I can't wait to read the rest of Mrs. Radcliffe's horid novels!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2004

    The first romantic novel

    The Mysteries of Udolpho is the first romantic novel in which a heroine is the main focus of the book. Written in a time where women had so little control over their own life, Emily attempts and in the end suceeds in getting her hearts content. Like modern day romances, we watch as Emily and Valancourt fight the odds and obstacles to become a couple. The deep descriptions of the Castle of Udolpho add to the books mystery. If you are a modern day romance novel reader I would suggest you read the book that started it all. However, there are pages on pages of description in which modern day readers may find a bit tedicious.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews

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