02 November 2009

The Mysteries of Udolpho

I had to go back and re-read this since I'd plowed through it for LbW moderating duties before December 2008; I hadn't had much chance to enjoy it then.

There is quite a bit to enjoy about The Mysteries of Udolpho.  Radcliffe does conjure up beautiful French and Italian countrysides, creepy castles with labryinthine secret passages, and myriad sunrises and sunsets to admire.  There is a lot of atmosphere in the book and I do appreciate that (ooooh, the black veil, creepy).  The heroine Emily St. Aubert I do not appreciate quite so much; she faints a lot and cries a lot and writes the eighteenth-century equivalent of emo teenager poetry (Valancourt isn't much better but at least he doesn't swoon all the time).

That being said I think it is important for anyone who reads Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, etc., to read The Mysteries of Udolpho.  Austen was heavily indebted to Radcliffe in the composition of Northanger Abbey (even to the point of Catherine reading Udolpho on Isabella's recommendation) and the long Gothic novel helped usher in the vogue for novels like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit.  I found I had to put myself into the mindset of an eighteenth-century, sheltered, middlingly educated, young woman to really enjoy Udolpho fully; that mindset finds mystery and enchantment in the writing whereas my twenty-first century sensibilities are wondering why anyone would subject themselves to that nut Montoni for any longer than thirty seconds or start fantasizing about pushing Emily off the nearest parapet so we don't have to listen to her anymore.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 10/13

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