Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review of Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Name of book: The Mysteries of Udolpho

Author Name: Ann Radcliffe

ISBN: 0-486-44033-8

Publisher: Dover

Type of Book: Adult to young adult due to big words, historical, gothic

Year it was published: 1794


Stranded in a gloomy medieval fortress, an orphaned heroine battles the devious schemes of her guardians as well as her own pensive vsisions and melancholy fancies. Generations of readers have thrilled to The Mysteries of Udolpho, one of the most popular of the early Gothic novels, and considered a landmark in the realm of psychological fiction. Set in 1584, the tale unfolds amid the secret chambers of a chateau in southern France and a castle in the remote Apennines, populated by pirates, brigands, ghosts, and specters. Emily St. Aubert, imprisoned by her rapacious guardian Count Montoni and his sadistic wife, struggles to reconcile her father's teachings of reserve and moderation with her own reckless passions. Emily's attempts to control her emotions and resolve her suspicions and self-doubts offer a haunting and hypnotic pre-Freudian exploration of the psyche.

This from Emily St. Aubert's point of view, from start to finish with only two deviations. She tends to be sort of a flat character in my view, that is she doesn't seemed to have learned anything new from her experiences nor has she changed at the end of her adventures. Emily St. Aubert is the sensitive thoughtful and somehow extremely fragile heroine, or supposedly anyways. She is a bit of a Cinderella, and also tends to rely on men around her such as her father. The hero, Valancourt, barely deserves a mention.

I would guess the main theme is overcoming various problems to be with somebody you love.

Right from the start we are introduced to the family as Emily knows it, populated with lots of nature scenes. There are various climaxes and resolutions within the volumes, and even after Emily gets away her adventures are not yet finished and suspense doesn't let up until certain thing is revealed and only then Emily and Valancourt could be together.

Author Information: 

Ann's fiction is characterized by seemingly supernatural events being explained through reason. Throughout her work traditional morals are asserted, women’s rights are advocated for, and reason prevails.

Ann published 6 novels in all. These are (listed alphabetically) The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, Gaston de Blondeville, The Italian, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest and A Sicilian Romance. She also published a book of poetry, but her talent for prose far exceeded her poetic ability.

Radcliffe is considered to be the founder of Gothic literature. While there were others that preceded her, Radcliffe was the one that legitimized Gothic literature. Sir Walter Scott called her the 'founder of a class or school‘ (Facer). Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like where Gothic literature was headed, and her final novel, The Italian, was written in response to Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. It is assumed that this frustration is what caused Radcliffe to cease writing.

Ann Radcliffe had a profound influence on many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott also interspersed his work with poems, as did Radcliffe. Indeed, "Scott himself said that her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two dimensional, the plots far fetched and improbably, with 'elaboration of means and futility of result.'" (From wikipedia.)

 Before taking Jane Austen class in spring of 2009, I have never heard of neither the author nor the book. We only had to read a section and the teacher told us to skip the nature parts. (It was optional reading.) The book arrived late, (day after the assignment was due,) and I still remember the classmates of mine saying how they couldn't just read a section, that they had to read the book in its entirety. When I started to read the book, I made fun of it, kind of anyways, and up until 2010, I always struggled in finishing it. I would start it, then quit it and so on. Since then, I've read the book in its entirety and enjoyed it a great deal. The first volume of this book in particular is a joy to read, the nature scenes in particular. Others are also interesting but do get to be overwhelming and boring. (This book also has vocabulary that I don't hear on a daily basis: ditties, vesper-hymns, wainscotting, edifice, precipice, etc) Towards the end, I was very caught up with the book and couldn't wait to find out the secrets and a certain whether or not Emily is related to someone. The resolutions in someways were very disappointing and a let down, but otherwise, if you are looking to improve your vocabulary or want to read more about nature, then this is a book for you :)
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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