The Mysteries of Udolpho Summary

Ann Ward


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After the death of his wife, Monsieur St. Aubert, a French aristocrat, takes his daughter on a trip in the Pyrenees. High on a mountain road, the St. Auberts meet a young nobleman dressed in hunting clothes. He is Valancourt, the younger son of a family with which Monsieur St. Aubert is acquainted. Joining the St. Auberts on their journey, the young man soon falls in love with eighteen-year-old Emily St. Aubert, and the girl feels that she, too, might lose her heart to him.

St. Aubert becomes gravely ill and dies in a cottage near the Chateau-le-Blanc, ancestral seat of the noble Villeroi family. After her father’s burial at the nearby convent of St. Clair, Emily returns to her home at La Vallée and, as her father had requested, promptly burns some mysterious letters. She finds a miniature portrait of a beautiful unknown woman among the letters. Since she was not told to destroy the portrait, she takes it with her when she leaves La Vallée to stay with her aunt in Toulouse.

Valancourt follows Emily to Toulouse to press his suit. After some remonstrance, the aunt gives her permission for the young couple to marry. A few days before the ceremony, the aunt herself marries Signor Montoni, a sinister Italian, who immediately forbids Emily’s nuptials. To make his refusal doubly positive, he takes Emily and her aunt to his mansion in Venice.

There, Emily and Madame Montoni are in unhappy circumstances, for it soon becomes apparent that Montoni has married to secure the estates of his new wife and her niece for himself. When he tries to force Emily to marry a Venetian nobleman, Count Morano, Emily is in despair. On the night before the wedding, Montoni suddenly orders his household to pack and leave for his castle at Udolpho, high in the Apennines.

When the party arrives at Udolpho, Montoni immediately begins repairing the fortifications of the castle. Emily does not like the dark, cold castle from which the previous owner, Lady Laurentini, had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Superstitious servants claim that apparitions flitted about the halls and galleries of the ancient fortress.

Shortly after Montoni and his household have settled there, Count Morano attempts to kidnap Emily. Foiled by Montoni, who wounded him severely in a sword fight, Morano threatens revenge. A few days later, Montoni tries to force his wife to sign over her estates to him. When she refuses, he locks her up in a tower of the castle. Emily tries to visit her aunt that night. Terrified to find fresh blood on the tower stairs, she concludes that her aunt has been murdered.

Ghostly sounds and shadows about Udolpho begin to make everyone uneasy. Even Montoni, who had organized a band of marauders to terrorize and pillage the neighborhood, begins to believe the castle is haunted. Emily hears that several hostages have been taken. She is sure that Valancourt is a prisoner, for she has heard someone singing a song he had taught her, and one night a mysterious shadow calls her by name. Her life is tormented by Montoni’s threats that unless she sign away her estates to him she will suffer the same fate as her aunt. As Emily discovers from her maid, her aunt had not been murdered except indirectly, for she had died after becoming very...

(The entire section is 1340 words.)