The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe
The Mysteries of Udolpho Ann Radcliffe
The following entry presents criticism of Radcliffe's novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). For information on Radcliffe's complete career, see NCLC, Volumes 6 and 55.
Although several novels published before The Mysteries of Udolpho fall into what is considered the gothic genre, many critics consider Radcliffe the founder of the gothic novel. The Mysteries of Udolpho includes all of the classic gothic elements, including a haunted castle, a troubled heroine, a mysterious and menacing male figure, and hidden secrets of the past. Extremely popular when it was first published in four volumes in 1794, the work made Radcliffe famous throughout Europe.
Born July 9, 1764, Ann Ward was the daughter of William and Ann Oates Ward. Her father held a modest occupation as a haberdasher, but her extended family included well-known scholars and physicians. Growing up a very shy and reticent young woman in Bath, she led a sheltered life but had a great love for literature and nature. She gradually developed a heightened romantic sensibility and an interest for the supernatural. On January 15, 1787, she married William Radcliffe, a student at Oxford, and the couple moved to London, where, according to all accounts, they lived happily.
Finding herself among literary circles in London, Radcliffe was stimulated enough to try her hand at writing, and she quickly established herself as an author with extraordinary powers of description. By the time she had published The Romance of the Forest in 1791, her reputation was established. Despite being acknowledged as an adept writer, the 500 pounds she received for The Mysteries of Udolpho surprised the literary world, it would have been a handsome sum for a male writer, let alone a woman of the late eighteenth century. Interestingly, although the novel includes many descriptions of Italy and other foreign locales, it was not until the work was actually being printed that Radcliffe left England for the first time in her life, traveling to the Continent with her husband and visiting Holland and Germany. Her descriptions of foreign landscapes in Udolpho, therefore, come exclusively from her reading and her appreciation of art.
After writing a half dozen novels, Radcliffe's literary output slowed, though she continued to write some poetry. By 1813, Radcliffe's health began to wane. A longtime asthma sufferer, she moved to Ramsgate in 1822 for the sea air. However, she passed away on February 7, 1823, when the inflammation reached her brain.
Plot and Major Characters
Set in the sixteenth century, The Mysteries of Udolpho opens in the idyllic setting of Emily St. Aubert's home in La Vallee, where she lives with her parents. The happiness of this life is quickly dissipated, however, when her mother dies. She moves to the Pyrenees with her father, and there meets and falls in love with Valancourt. However, her father soon falls ill, too, and upon his deathbed commands Emily to burn a number of letters and documents, strictly forbidding her to read any of them. After he dies, Emily dutifully burns the letters, but she accidentally chances to read a passage from one of them. Although the content of the letter is never revealed to the reader, the passage she reads, which apparently refers to a woman whom her father had once loved, deeply disturbs Emily.
With her parents gone, Emily goes to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron. Cheron is a vain, selfish, and unpleasant woman, but more unpleasant and menacing still is her suitor, the villainous Montoni, who has squandered his own money and is in league with a group of bandits. Cheron marries Montoni, though it is clear he is only interested in her estates. Valancourt has followed Emily to her aunt's home in Toulouse, and, at first, is given permission by Montoni to marry Emily. However, Montoni changes his mind and sends Valancourt away. Montoni takes Emily and his wife to Udolpho, a castle in the Italian Apennines. Here, he tries to force one of his associates, Count Morano, upon Emily, who resists his proposals. Montoni then tries to force Emily's aunt to give him all her property. When she refuses, he locks her away in a secluded room where he neglects and eventually starves her to death. Meanwhile, Montoni also pursues Emily for her money and land. During her stay at Udolpho, many bizarre and seemingly supernatural occurrences frighten Emily.
Emily manages to escape from Udolpho. However, she is shipwrecked on the French coast, where she is rescued by the Count de Villefort, who takes her to live with his family in the chateau he has inherited from the Villerois. The chateau is near the convent where her father's grave is located, and Emily spends some time there. Back at the chateau, Emily experiences other frightening sights. When one of the servants, Ludovico, bravely spends the night there to prove that there are no ghosts, he disappears the next day. Soon, Emily also finds out that she bears a striking resemblance to the Marchioness de Villeroi.
Vallancourt appears once again, but Emily rejects him this time because she has heard that he engaged in gambling and other poor behavior while he was in Paris. She returns to La Vallee to learn that the lands Montoni has stolen from her have been returned to her possession and that Montoni is now in jail. Ludovico is also rediscovered. He had been taken by bandits, who had been using part of the chateau to hide their ill-gotten booty. It is discovered that it was the bandits who had been haunting the chateau to scare away anyone who might discover them and their secret. Emily further learns that the rumors about her love, Vallancourt, were untrue, and the couple marries and lives happily at La Vallee.
The most prominent theme in The Mysteries of Udolpho is the triumph of virtue over villainy: a characteristic of all the novels by Radcliffe, who was a devout Christian. Montoni, who squanders his fortunes and turns to illegal and deadly means to win them back, is eventually imprisoned, while Emily, though she endures many trying adventures, maintains her moral principles and eventually finds happiness. Related to this theme is the importance of balance and moderation, which Emily's father teaches her. It is when Emily allows herself to go to emotional extremes, becoming imbalanced, that she suffers most. Also present in the story is Emily's search for truth and need to uncover the secrets at Udolpho and the Villeroi chateau. Another theme is the inescapable past. Many of the characters are haunted by their past, as Emily is; although the mysteries of Udolpho are eventually resolved, there is still a sense of an inescapable haunting that follows the characters.
The Mysteries of Udolpho was both an extremely popular novel and a critically praised one when it was first published and for many years after. Readers heartily enjoyed Radcliffe's gift for description and her deftness at building dramatic tension throughout the story. She was acknowledged by critics of her time as the queen of the gothic novel, and she was also considered to be a pioneer of the romantic movement. With her popularity, however, also came a wide array of imitators who shamelessly—and often poorly—copied her style, plots, and characters to the verge of plagiarism. It was because of these lesser writers that Radcliffe's novel often suffered by association. Her work was sometimes satirized, too, most famously in Jane Austen's 1818 novel, Northanger Abbey.
Not all of Radcliffe's contemporary critics lauded Udolpho, however. Some reviewers noted that there were a number of flaws in the work. The most disturbing of these, even for general readers, was Radcliffe's insistence on explaining away the apparently supernatural events with logical, quotidian causes. And, even though she explains these events, her explanations sometimes fall short; there is a sense that the author is merely teasing the audience with hints of supernatural spirits that are not really there. One recent critic, Terry Castle, however, notes that the supernatural is not so much explained as it is transferred to Emily's everyday life, where she is later “haunted” by the presence of her dead parents in La Vallee. Other complaints include the work's anachronisms (many of the settings are distinctly eighteenth-century in nature, although the novel is supposedly set in the sixteenth century), flat characterization, and improbable turns in plotting. Emily has been particularly criticized for her repeated fainting spells that occur at the slightest provocation, her exaggerated imagination that leads her to quickly conclude that something ordinary is supernatural, and her heightened “sensibility” that makes her a character whofeels but rarely thinks. The poetry that Radcliffe wrote for her story and interspersed throughout its pages is also criticized for being distracting and unnecessary by some, and of poor quality by others.
Recent critics analyze Udolpho from feminist and psychological standpoints and offer more serious considerations of Emily's character. The book has also been considered in terms of its sensual subtext and Emily's growing sense of her sexuality. In this new light, Udolpho has gained greater appreciation among modern literary pundits.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story (novel) 1789
A Sicilian Romance (novel) 1790
The Romance of the Forest: Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry (novel) 1791
The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry (novel) 1794
A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany, with a Return Down the Rhine; To Which Are Added Observations During a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland (travel essays) 1795
The Italian, or The Confessional of the Black Penitents. A Romance (novel) 1797
Gaston de Blondevill, or The Court of Henry III. Keeping Festival in Ardenne, A Romance. St. Alban's Abbey, A Metrical Tale; With Some Poetical Pieces. To Which Is Prefixed a Memoir of the Author (novel) 1826
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SOURCE: Critical Review, August, 1794, pp. 361-72.
[In the following essay, Coleridge notes the weaknesses of The Mysteries of Udolpho, including its repetitive descriptions, flat characterizations, and anticlimactic conclusion.]
… In this contest of curiosity on one side, and invention on the other, Mrs. Radcliffe has certainly the advantage. She delights in concealing her plan with the most artificial contrivance, and seems to amuse herself with saying, at every turn and doubling of the story, “Now you think you have me, but I shall take care to disappoint you.” This method is, however, liable to the following inconvenience, that in the search of what is new, an author is apt to forget what is natural; and, in rejecting the more obvious conclusions, to take those which are less satisfactory. The trite and the extravagant are the Scylla and Charybdis of writers who deal in fiction. With regard to the work before us, while we acknowledge the extraordinary powers of Mrs. Radcliffe, some readers will be inclined to doubt whether they have been exerted in the present work with equal effect as in the Romance of the Forest.—Four volumes cannot depend entirely on terrific incidents and intricacy of story. They require character, unity of design, a delineation of the scenes of real life, and the variety of well supported contrast. The Mysteries of Udolpho are indeed relieved by much...
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SOURCE: Monthly Review, November, 1794, pp. 278-83.
[In the following excerpt, Enfield reviews The Mysteries of Udolpho and praises Radcliffe's writing style, including her descriptions and characterization.]
If the merit of fictitious narratives may be estimated by their power of pleasing, Mrs. Radcliffe's romances will be entitled to rank highly in the scale of literary excellence. There are, we believe, few readers of novels who have not been delighted with her Romance of the Forest; and we incur little risque in predicting that the Mysteries of Udolpho will be perused with equal pleasure.
The works of this ingenious writer not only possess, in common with many other productions of the same class, the agreeable qualities of correctness of sentiment and elegance of style, but are also distinguished by a rich vein of invention, which supplies an endless variety of incidents to fill the imagination of the reader; by an admirable ingenuity of contrivance to awaken his curiosity, and to bind him in the chains of suspence; and by a vigour of conception and a delicacy of feeling which are capable of producing the strongest sympathetic emotions, whether of pity or terror. Both these passions are excited in the present romance, but chiefly the latter; and we admire the enchanting power with which the author at her pleasure seizes and detains them. We are no less pleased...
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SOURCE: “Ideology and ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho,”’ in Criticism, Vol. 21, No. 4, Fall, 1979, pp. 307-30.
[In the following essay, Poovey explains the class values system of nineteenth-century English culture and how Udolpho, though it is set in the sixteenth century, actually reflects the class morality of the author's times. Poovey goes on to note that Radcliffe's insights into the coming rise in feminine values are not followed through to their logical conclusion because of the author's faithfulness to the old status quo.]
The system of “values, ideas and images” which cemented the position of the upper middle class within the social and political hierarchy of eighteenth-century England—and which perpetuated an illusion of power for that class even after the foundations of paternalism began to erode—was based on what eighteenth-century poets and philosophers called the “sentimental virtues.”1 “Sentimentalism,” with its close kin “sensibility,” was the ideology generalized from the theories of such eighteenth-century moral philosophers as David Hume and Adam Smith. Adapting Shaftesbury's theory of an innate moral faculty, Hume and Smith proposed that moral action was based on man's characteristic sympathetic response and, ultimately, that virtue was desirable because it advanced one's own welfare and gratified the desire for...
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SOURCE: “Gothic Heroes” in The English Hero, 1660-1800, edited by Robert Folkenflik, University of Delaware Press, 1982, pp. 205-21.
[In the following essay, Anderson analyzes the male characters in Udolpho and measures their complexity and traits versus the men in such works as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk, and Radcliffe's own The Italian.]
The Mysteries of Udolpho … is in my opinion one of the most interesting Books that ever have been published. I would advise you to read it by all means, … and when you read it, tell me whether you think there is any resemblance between the character given of Montoni in the seventeenth chapter of the second volume, and my own. I confess, that it struck me, and as He is the Villain of the Tale, I did not feel much flattered by the likeness.”1 The intensity of M. G. Lewis's response to Mrs. Radcliffe's novel is well known; still, we can assume he is more playful than serious in urging upon his mother the congruity of his own identity and Montoni's.2 The passage (written by the man soon to become Monk Lewis, the artist inseparable from his creation) amounts almost to a prescient parody of the readiness to merge all gothic novels into The Gothic Novel, to fuse every gothic hero in The Gothic Hero.3
This impulse is the less surprising since many...
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SOURCE: “Udolpho's Primal Mystery,” in Studies in English Literature, Vol. 23, No. 3, Summer, 1983, pp. 481-94.
[In the following essay, Fawcett explores the underlying sexual themes in The Mysteries of Udolpho, and theorizes that gothic novels can be seen not just as escapist literature but, when viewed psychoanalytically, as symbolic explorations into thoughts and desires that are suppressed within the mind.]
The eternal gates terrific porter lifted the northern bar: Thel enter'd in & saw the secrets of the land unknown; She saw the couches of the dead, & where the fibrous roots Of every heart on earth infixes deep its restless twists: A land of sorrows & of tears where never smile was seen.
The Book of Thel, IV, 1-5
In Ann Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, a daughter wishes to know the secrets of her father's past and to understand events which occurred twenty years ago, at the time of her own birth, but which her father has, on his deathbed, forbidden her to search out. Curiosity and taboo, desire and restraint—we readers are drawn into a magic circle of deathbeds and birth anxieties. Mrs. Radcliffe hints at a truth, at a scene to be re-animated; Emily St. Aubert, her main character, looks repeatedly at scenes which remind us of obsessional neurotic dreams, dreams which a psychoanalytic patient might have in...
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SOURCE: “Pictures to the Heart: The Psychological Picturesque in Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho,” in Greene Centennial Studies: Essays Presented to Donald Greene in the Centennial Year of the University of Southern California, University Press of Virginia, 1984, pp. 434-41.
[In the following essay, Hagstrum considers Radcliffe's Udolpho as a “pictorialist” novel, declaring that the author deftly balances the narrative between the sublimes of beauty and terror with the result being an analogous exploration of Emily's burgeoning sensuality.]
The term pictorial is often used as a synonym for graphic, visual, scenic, or sensuous. In his analysis of renditions of reality in Western literature, Erich Auerbach is concerned with the pictorial in this sense, making it the source of important literary value. Failure for him is to be “dry and unvisualized,” while success lies in being sensory and pictorial. To write with circumstantial detail is to write “plastically”; the graphic manner floods a work with “a clear and equal light,” leaving nothing mysterious in the background.1 What Auerbach praises is the ancient rhetorical value called enargeia—that is, clarity, palpability, a living daylight freshness and fullness of vivid detail.2
For many works in the Western tradition the term pictorial as defined is not...
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SOURCE: “Ann Radcliffe in Context: Marking the Boundaries of The Mysteries of Udolpho,” in Eighteenth Century Life, Vol. 10, No. 1, January, 1986, pp. 35-46.
[In the following essay, London explains how plot structure and characterization uphold moral and social principles in such works as Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho.]
At the end of Tom Jones Fielding's narrator assures the continued happiness of the eponymous hero by ascribing to him the qualities of “Discretion” and “Prudence.”1 Discretion and Prudence are called into play here to reinforce the conjunction of the epistemological and ethical with the material reality of the estate Tom Jones has inherited. Only enclosed within the boundaries of this estate can be consciously limit possibility to accord with the desirable consonance of providence and prudence. The boundaries of the estate, in other words, image the reconciliation of self and social wisdom and thus impose an integrity of meaning which conforms to Fielding's preference for the truth of design over the sprawl of undifferentiated experience. That preference for order over anarchy is, of course, common to numerous writers throughout the century. But changing political and cultural realities put increasing pressure on the concept of exclusion, and on its narrative representation, the estate. Ann Radcliffe's...
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SOURCE: “Radcliffe's Dual Modes of Vision,” in Fetter'd or Free? British Women Novelists, 1670-1815, edited by Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski, Ohio University Press, 1986, pp. 124-33.
[In the following essay, Flaxman declares that critics need to recognize Radcliffe's work as innovative for its time, emphasizing the author's descriptive skills and highlighting her particular techniques in painting a scene.]
The new scholarship on women has extended our sense of the novel tradition by bringing hitherto neglected works by women to the attention of critics. Although Ann Radcliffe's work has never been completely neglected, reassessment reveals her importance as a formal innovator in the history of the English novel. Often she is praised for her attention to setting and story and for softening and romanticizing the conventional Gothic novel's atmosphere from horrific effects to merely terrifying ones. But she has never been recognized sufficiently for establishing a new descriptive mode and technique for the novel. In so doing, she effectively expands the novel's rhetorical possibilities.
Radcliffe was one of the first English novelists to elevate extended, visually oriented landscape description—previously nearly the exclusive province of poetry—to a position of prominence in English fiction. In addition to establishing a new subject—subsequently developed by writers as...
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SOURCE: “The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho,” in The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown, Methuen, 1987, pp. 231-53.
[In the following essay, Castle points out that although critics of Udolpho usually focus on the gothic episodes of the novel that occur at the castle, the events in the other sections of the book also deserve attention for their fantastical undertones and preoccupation with death and the dead.]
Friends came to be possessed like objects, while inanimate objects were desired like living beings.
Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death (606)1
When it is not treated as a joke, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) is primarily remembered today for its most striking formal device—the much-maligned “explained supernatural.” Scott, we may recall, was one of the first to blame Radcliffe for supplying anticlimactic “rational” explanations for the various eerie and uncanny events in her novels, and in Lives of Eminent Novelists (1824) chastized her for not “boldly avowing the use of supernatural machinery” in her greatest fiction.2 Jane Austen's satiric depredations in Northanger Abbey are even better known.3...
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SOURCE: “Bathos and Repetition: The Uncanny in Radcliffe,” in The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 19, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 197-204.
[In the following essay, Macdonald studies Radcliffe's use of repetition and her protagonist's reactions to fantastical occurrences as evidence that the author overly-explains and rationalizes supernatural episodes.]
The defining characteristic of the fantastic as a literary genre, according to Tzvetan Todorov, is the hesitation or uncertainty it produces in the reader (and sometimes in the characters) as to the fictional reality of supernatural phenomena. The genre thus defined is extremely small: usually the supernatural events are either explained away, so that the fantastic becomes merely uncanny, or verified, so that it becomes marvelous (Todorov 25).
Richard Howard translates Todorov's étrange as uncanny because Todorov himself invokes Freud's conception of the unheimlich, though he notes that “there is not an entire coincidence between Freud's use of the term and [his] own” (Todorov 47). Indeed, in the lexicographic section of his paper on “The ‘Uncanny,’” Freud suggests a number of French equivalents for unheimlich, including inquiétant, sinistre, lugubre, and mal à son aise, but not étrange (Freud 17: 221). Much of Freud's paper, moreover, is devoted to considering...
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SOURCE: “Emily's Demon-Lover: The Gothic Revolution and The Mysteries of Udolpho,” in Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited by Kenneth W. Graham, AMS Press, 1989, pp. 163-70.
[In the following essay, Graham discusses the narrative pace of Udolpho and how it works to build suspense in a storyline that contains very little actual action.]
In a metaphor that Ann Radcliffe probably and perhaps rightly would have found lacking in taste, Robert Scholes compares the act of fiction with the act of sex:
For what connects fiction … with sex is the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence and detumescence, of tension and resolution, of intensification to the point of climax and consummation. In the sophisticated forms of fiction, as in the sophisticated practice of sex, much of the art consists of delaying climax within the framework of desire in order to prolong the pleasurable act itself.1
Although the quotation is taken from a discussion of John Fowles' The Magus, it shows a startling aptness to Mrs. Radcliffe's fictional method which is to draw out a situation longer than seems possible by delaying the climax. The amplitude of her accomplishment becomes apparent when one measures the majesty of the three to four bulky volumes that comprise each of her novels against the modest paragraph that...
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SOURCE: “Ann Radcliffe and the Extended Imagination,” in Contemporary Review, Vol. 258, No. 1505, June, 1991, pp. 300-308.
[In the following essay, Bruce reviews the theme of the love of liberty in Udolpho, as well as the love of nature, and compares these ideas with some of Radcliffe's other works, including The Italian and The Romance in the Forest.]
‘You, who are so young, have you reason for sorrow?’, Emily St. Aubert is asked at the end of The Mysteries of Udolpho (chapter 38). Emily, the heroine of the book, has every right to answer, ‘Yes’. She has, in a short time, lost both her parents. Her marriage to the exquisite Chevalier de Valancourt has been broken off. There is no end to her troubles. Used though she is to freedom, and rejoicing in it, she is subjected to a series of ever more constricting imprisonments: first in the manor house in Toulouse belonging to her aunt, Mme. Chéron, who becomes her guardian after the death of her father; then, when that silly aunt marries the bandit-chief Montoni, in his palazzo in Venice; afterwards in Montoni's Apennine fortress, the Castle of Udolpho, a place of threats, spectacles and events all equally hideous; again in a cottage in Tuscany, watched over by a pair of Montoni's ruffians; finally, after her aunt has died from privation and disappointment, in still closer duress in Udolpho, until she asserts her own will and...
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SOURCE: “Literal and Literary Representations of the Family in The Mysteries of Udolpho,” in Eighteenth Century Fiction, Vol. 8, No. 4, July, 1996, pp. 485-501.
[In the following essay, Whiting investigates the theme of family by analyzing the different types of families that Emily experiences in Udolpho.]
From its publication, critical response to The Mysteries of Udolpho has been lively and mixed, particularly to the novel's explicable and explained supernatural, its long scenic descriptions, its anachronisms, and its mediocre poetry.1 In our own century, beginning most forcefully with Wylie Sypher's discussion of its relentless and almost defining ambiguity,2 critics have often been uneasy with the novel's seeming generic, political, and philosophical contradictions. The present essay attempts to explain a seemingly arbitrary episode in the novel, the adventure that befalls Count De Villefort, his daughter Blanche, and her fiancé St Foix during their return to Chateau-le-Blanc. This episode, involving one of the most fully elaborated characters in the novel, is both contained within its own chapter3 and also curiously without closure. But even critics focusing on aspects of family relations have almost universally ignored it.4 I will argue that, although the episode makes little narrative sense in terms of Emily's plot per se, in...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Mysteries of Udolpho, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. vii-xxvi.
[In the following essay, Castle, while agreeing with other critical assessments that Radcliffe's work is erratic and seriously flawed, argues that the novel should not be dismissed completely because Udolpho has a definite emotional power that the unprejudiced reader can learn to appreciate.]
Perhaps no work in the history of English fiction has been more often caricatured—trivialized, misread, remade as hearsay—than Ann Radcliffe's late eighteenth-century Gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho. Some readers, indeed, will know Radcliffe's novel only as hearsay: as that delightfully ‘horrid’ book—full of castles and crypts and murdered wives—pressed upon Catherine Morland, the gullible young heroine of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817), by her Bath friend Isabella Thorpe. After consuming the book in a great voluptuous binge, the impressionable Catherine begins to see the everyday world around her as a kind of Gothic stage-set against which friends and acquaintances metamorphose—absurdly—into outsized Radcliffean villains and victims. The results are amusing: Northanger Abbey remains one of the great spoofs on reading-as-hallucination. But Udolpho itself is mere pretext—the intertextual cliché, or thing already known, upon which Austen...
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SOURCE: “Ann Radcliffe's Gothic Narrative and the Readers at Home,” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 31, No. 4, Winter, 1999, pp. 409-31.
[In the following essay, MacKenzie discusses Radcliffe's Gothic style and its effects on the eighteenth-century public mind.]
Many trips to Scotland are undoubtedly projected and executed, and many unfortunate connections formed, from the influence which novels gain over the mind.
—Catherine MacAulay, Letters on Education
I. THE SCENE OF READING
During much the same period that the French Revolution horrified the public imagination of England, the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe terrified English private imaginations. As Edmund Burke and others fought Jacobin sentiments (and lack of sentiment) in the political theater, Radcliffe claimed an altogether easier conquest of the hearth. Her novels are Gothic—really the apogee of the form's early ascendancy—but they are also domestic; home is ever-present, ever-discussed, ever-sought. Home is also the cover to which Radcliffe's obscure life in letters has generally been critically consigned. Bonamy Dobree's introduction to the Oxford World's Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho says simply, “she never entered the literary life, preferring to live quietly at home, writing by the fireside, not enjoying...
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Murray, E. B. Ann Radcliffe. New York, N.Y.: Twayne Publishers, 1972, 178 p.
Overviews Radcliffe's life and major works, and evaluates her influence upon the literary world.
Arnold, Ellen. “Deconstructing the Patriarchal Palace: Ann Radcliffe's Poetry in The Mysteries of Udolpho.” Women and Language 19, No. 2 (Fall 1996): 21-29.
Analyzes the verses written by Radcliffe for The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Benedict, Barbara M. “Pictures of Conformity: Sentiment and Structure in Ann Radcliffe's Style.” Philological Quarterly 68, No. 3 (Summer 1989): 363-77.
Argues that Radcliffe's narrative style and plot structure emphasize the importance of the characters perceiving the world in a correct and moral manner.
Bernstein, Stephen. “Form and Ideology in the Gothic Novel.” Essays in Literature 18, No. 2 (Fall 1991): 151-65.
Studies the plot structures and thematic concerns of various gothic novels, from The Castle of Otranto to Melmoth the Wanderer.
Christensen, Merton A. “Udolpho, Horrid Mysteries, and Coleridge's Machinery of the Imagination,” in Wordsworth Circle 2, No. 4 (Autumn 1971): 153-59.
Notes that the ideals of the imagination are...
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