Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe

Well. This was a bit of a struggle.

No doubt like many others before me, I read this because of Northanger Abbey. Austen's utterly hilarious story makes Udolpho sound seriously amazing, full of spookiness and intriguing characters and nefarious villains and non-stop action.

What I got couldn't be further from the truth.

I actually tried to read this when I was about sixteen. I think I got 100 pages into it and returned it to the library unfinished, probably for many of the same reasons that I struggled with it fifteen years later.

I never entirely got into the story. There were such massive slabs of text describing the natural habitat at each location in the story that I found myself wanting to find an abridged version just to get to the point. Emily's a pretty average main character. She spends half her time fainting and the other half mooning over Valancourt. In turn, Valancourt's entire character seems to be "he's nice to poor people and he loves Emily to the point of wandering around the garden of her father's house at night so he can be close to her". Dude. No.

The story itself was so bogged down with description and clunky writing (holy hell, Radcliffe, STEP AWAY FROM THE COMMAS) that it became almost unreadable at times. And when the characters were wandering around moping and suddenly made up two page poems while moping? Yeah, no. (I confess, I skipped the poetry.)

Seriously, though. The comma abuse was extreme. Here's a sample sentence:

"Emily, called, as she had requested, at an early hour, awoke, little refreshed by sleep, for uneasy dreams had pursued her, and marred the kindest blessing of the unhappy, But, when she opened her casement, looked out upon the woods, bright with the morning sun, and inspired the pure air, her mind was soothed." (p. 72)

I'm sorry, but Radcliffe should have been arrested by the Grammar Police for offences like that.

Given that it's a Gothic novel, I was expecting spookiness and dastardly villains aplenty. Instead, I got a villain who was in it for the money and Emily fainting as a plot device to indicate that something spooky was meant to be happening. The titular Castle of Udolpho doesn't turn up until nearly a third of the way into the book. And in the first 200 pages, basically all that happens is Emily's mother dies, she and her father go on a holiday, she falls in love with Valancourt, and her father dies. THAT'S. IT.

Things picked up once we hit the Castle of Udolpho, and actually got fairly exciting for a while there. But then suddenly we're struck with a new narrator - Blanche, a character we've never met before - and a sense of "Huh? What? Who the hell is this?".

Look, I'm sure for its time, it was fabulous groundbreaking stuff. But stay up until 3am because you have to know what happens territory like Northanger Abbey implies? Nope.

When I finished it last night, I gave it 3 stars. But I think a lot of that was relief that I was finally finished. Upon reflection, I'm downgrading it to 2 stars. It certainly had its moments ("'You speak like a heroine,' said Montoni, contemptuously; 'we shall see if you can suffer like one.'" is a stand out), but on the whole I found the writing clunky, the descriptions far too detailed, and the characters bland.


Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx


  1. I've never read Udolpho, but it's been on my Classics To Read list for years - ever since I read about it in Northanger Abbey! It's a shame that it's a bit boring, but I love the fact that Austen bigged up a smaller author - how many people have read Northanger and then gone on to Udolpho?!
    Beth x

  2. Udolpho is my guilty pleasure! I've read and reread it over the years together with Northanger Abbey :)

  3. Never read it myself! I haven't gotten to Northanger Abbey, for that matter. Even though the book sucked, great review! Thanks for the giggles.

  4. What an awesome review...lmao on the comma situation, that is particularly impressive!

  5. Oh wow! I didn't know this existed. Funny, because I am going to read Northanger Abbey shortly...so I'll be sure to remember NOT to read this one after because it sounds like I will enjoy the world of Northanger Abbey more if I don't then struggle through this. Thanks for the heads up and thanks for sharing!


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