Michelle's Reviews > The mysteries of Udolpho

The mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
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** spoiler alert ** Slow to start, Udolpho is not what I expected from the allegedly archetypal Gothic romance novel. There are hardly any murders, and not one torture chamber to be found. Instead, we have poems and a bland romance, though counterbalanced with some genuine tension and surprises.
Emily, the heroine, can be very annoying, and I was more interested in the servants' stories than hers. At first, she was what I expected: a gentle, quiet girl who fainted so often you'd think she was narcoleptic. Then her father died, and she proceeded to wallow in grief for months. After things picked up, she was bearable, but then Emily found out that her dear Valancourt wasn't the perfect shining knight she'd thought, all from from hearsay. She immediately decides that not only should she not give him an opportunity to explain himself, she will never speak to him again, period. There are many, many scenes of Emily encountering, being tormented with thoughts of, and rejecting Valancourt.
I would have liked to read more about the minor characters. Specifically, Anette, Emily's servant, her boyfriend Ludovico--he disappears without a trace from a locked, "haunted" room!--and Count Morano, the hot-headed suitor Emily rejects. His dogged persistence in chasing her down and trying to run off with her intrigued me. Valancourt, after his fall from grace, became a more interesting character as well, since I'm rather fond of flaws in my characters.
The plot is enjoyable, after Emily comes home from vacation. Her long, thoroughly described, purple prose-crammed vacation. The villain, Montoni, didn't strike me as very threatening, due to his not actually doing anything to Emily or any of his other prisoners. He just hangs out in a castle and bullies Emily into signing over her property. Hence, I suppose it's all right that he receives his just deserts offscreen.
Conclusion: it's okay. Skimming the descriptions of scenery, the poems, and if Emily doesn't grate on you as much as I, it's not a bad book. Yes, the prose is stilted in the usual novels-have-just-been-invented style, but unlike, say, Moby Dick, there aren't any chapters of abandoning the characters to describe something tangential to the plot. Good read for satisfying curiousity, not for its own merits.
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