emily's Reviews > The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
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Mar 13, 10

Read in March, 2010

I have never seen the word "melancholy" used as much as in this book, nor in such widely varied situations.

Do not go to Udolpho for character development (there's none -- people are wholly good, wholly servant-funny, wholly evil, or wholly conniving) or for rapid plot developments (we spend a lot of time looking at melancholy vistas, worrying about whether banditti may linger in the forests, or seeing peasant children from a distance and finding them picturesque). However, if you created the "Greatest Hits of the Gothic Novel," you'd pretty much get this very book. There's not a convention left untouched -- mysterious birth, mistaken identity, unwilling marriages, maybe ghosts, secret passages, smugglers, loyal servants, spurned lovers, the list goes on and on and on and . . . .

At times, I was frustrated by the slowness of the book, and by the apparent dimwittedness of the leading ladies (Emily in particular, though Blanche is pretty much just a younger version of her). However, what's interesting here I think (and what's become more interesting now that I'm done with it and never again have to read one of Emily's melancholy sonnets about being a butterfly and waiting to learn if your fellow butterfly has died) is how ahead of its time it was. I mean, not completely. But ahead of its time in that it's told entirely from the perspective of a character who is completely out of the loop, in terms of the mysteries. She has no idea what forces are moving her around, and even though we as readers see through some of it pretty readily, Emily's state of mind is what drives the narration.
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