The Mysteries of Udolpho (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

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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Product Details

Meet the Author


When she published The Mysteries of Udolpho, 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 when her husband worked late, and her hobby quickly became a profitable venture. After she wrote The Italian (1797), Radcliffe mysteriously stopped publishing her works, leading to erroneous reports that she had died or become insane. She died peacefully in her bed of complications from spasmodic asthma at the age of 58.
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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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  • Posted July 18, 2010

    This is volume II

    There are four volumes of the imprint.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

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    Incredibly Captivating

    I decided to read The Mysteries of Udolpho after reading Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey, which is also an excellent book. This (Udolpho) is by far the best book I have ever read. There are so many twists and turns in the story. Emily is such a dear sweet girl who finds herself in horrible circumstances. Your heart aches for her. Will she ever fulfill her father's desires for her future?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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