Herman Gigglethorpe's Reviews > The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
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Jun 17, 12

bookshelves: why-is-this-a-classic, probably-written-by-an-aardvark
Read from June 16 to 17, 2012

One of my friends often reads silly romances, and told me of a gothic novel parody called "Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron" that often appears as a running gag in some of them. I thought that Mysteries of Udolpho would basically be that, except not as a joke. I expected a light read about a cackling supervillain that would make me laugh for a few days.



I WAS WRONG.

*JUST READ THESE SPOILERS AND SAVE YOURSELF THE TROUBLE OF READING THIS TRIPE*


This book is why God created editors, and why paying by the word has fallen out of style. Ann Radcliffe loves to spend page after page writing excessive descriptions of the landscapes, travel scenes, and boring poetry. The only way I tolerated this book at all was to skip most of those parts.

Much of the action occurs in tedious exposition after the fact (especially the pirate part) rather than in the "present".

Some parts are repetitive, such as when Emily St. Aubert constantly pines and weeps for her lover Valancourt. If she had sense, she would have married her rescuer Du Pont rather than the gambling addict Valancourt, but then again, Du Pont is too good for someone who faints all the time.

For a Gothic story, it's also very anticlimactic. Whenever something supernatural or interesting might happen, it's always just someone skulking around late at night rather than a ghost or a devil. The thing behind the infamous black veil turns out to be a wax corpse, rather than something as gruesome as the earlier descriptions hinted at. Even the main villain Signor Montoni (insert Funky Winkerbean joke here) is very easily defeated by the Venetian army, and dies in prison far away from the main characters.

Although the novel is called "Mysteries of Udolpho", only the middle third of the book takes place there, starting at around page 210 (out of 620 total) or so in my copy. To put the glacial pace of this book into perspective, Jane Eyre resolves two major plotlines by about page 100 or so, even though it is a long novel.


Here's some drinking games for this book if you want to get schnockered. ONLY USE ONE OF THESE CONDITIONS AT A TIME, OR YOU WILL PROBABLY DIE!

One drink for whenever one of these things happens.

-Emily faints.

-The word "melancholy" is used. (Probably the most dangerous one)

-Annette says a religious interjection like "Holy Virgin!" or "blessed saints!"

-A poem is thrown in for no good reason.

-Emily cries.

-Something that might be supernatural turns out to be mundane.

-Whenever a sentence has 6 or more commas.


Jesus's instruction to love your enemies may be difficult, but if nothing else in this case I could obey that rule because I wouldn't torture my worst foes by making them read this book. Paul Neil Milne Johnstone poetry is merciful by comparison.

EDIT: Something I forgot to mention: The weird moral that "You can judge a book by its cover". The only important character who questions this idea is the one who is murdered.
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