9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, over-the-top mystery
If you like your villains dastardly, your heroines swooning, and your castles brooding, this is the book for you! Our heroine is Emily St Aubert, whom we follow through family tragedy, romance, and exploitation. Murder, war, brigandry, and coincidence are thrown in for good measure. Some readers may dislike Emily's character - she weeps and swoons a great deal, and is...
Published on 8 Nov 1998
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The gothic tradition and more.
Characters,particularly female ones, tend to be rather flat and anaemic. Radcliffe concentrates on powerful male figures, the dark menace of Montoni or the benevolent paternity of St. Aubert and the Count de Villefois. Descriptions of France and Italy are painterly and will have you rushing to book a flight to the Languedoc or somewhere near the Appenines. It could be...
Published on 11 Aug 2001
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, over-the-top mystery,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)If you like your villains dastardly, your heroines swooning, and your castles brooding, this is the book for you! Our heroine is Emily St Aubert, whom we follow through family tragedy, romance, and exploitation. Murder, war, brigandry, and coincidence are thrown in for good measure. Some readers may dislike Emily's character - she weeps and swoons a great deal, and is largely passive in the face of malevolence.
Those who like their stories 'lean and mean' will find this a lot to digest at almost seven hundred pages, and the pace is often ponderous, with the early parts of the book largely a travelogue through 16th century France and Italy. Here there is a lot of repetition about the sublimity and awfulness (as in inspiring awe) of nature. The poems, which are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, are best skipped.
But despite these criticisms, this is a hugely entertaining book. Radcliffe's descriptions provide wonderful atmosphere, producing an almost dreamlike feel whether in a gloomy castle or on a summer walk. The characters are strongly defined, and their emotions palpable.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just plain good fun!,
This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)I came to this book after reading about it in Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey', which I suspect is why many enquirers are now reading this! I really enjoyed it and, although some of the other reviewers' negative comments are at least partly justified, I'd say, if you're not afraid of long novels, give it a go, it's just good fun.
By 21st century standards of horror, this story is tame and childish, but if you're like me and don't appreciate the excesses of modern horror and supernatural/occult things, but just enjoy a good read, you'll find this more to your taste. Yeah, sure there are some unbelievable parts, (like Emily's being able to compose whole sonnets on the spot, for one), but fiction like this is not really meant to be convincing. Mrs Radcliffe wrote to entertain the masses, and that's what she achieves. Yes, the desciptions can be a bit tedious at times, but if you read quickly as most of us do when we're 'in to' a novel, they soon pass and you get on with the story.
I esp. liked the fact that all the mysteries are explained in the end which saves you from having to go through the dissatisfying experience of wanting to know exactly what happened back there when 'x' did 'y' and so on, but never being told. (I sometimes wonder if some authors couldn't think of anything convincing with which to tie up their loose ends!!)
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The gothic tradition and more.,
By A Customer
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If only there was more Udolpho...,
The middle third of the book actually set in the castle of Udolpho is excellent - its dark, suspenseful and has some genuinely compelling moments. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the remainder of the story which bookends this section. The first 200 pages drag by so slowly its almost painful. Nothing happens. There are endless descriptions of mountains. Then we are treated to more sections of nothing happening... The final 200 pages, following Emily's escape from Udolpho, are an improvement but still hugely anti-climactic. The mysteries introduced and resolved in this section really don't hold a candle to the goings-on in Udolpho and the book just fizzles out. Its a shame.
I'm certain I will read more of Radcliffe's works as 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' is essentially a good book ruined by being far too long, and I notice the rest of her works are much shorter!
(As an afterthought, I'm curious as to why the book description states that this work was 'a potent influence on Walpole'. I'm fairly certain that Walpole published his major gothic novel at least 30 years before Radcliffe wrote 'The Myseries of Udolpho', but perhaps I'm wrong).
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary Perfection,
This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (World's Classics) (Paperback)I fear I don't have the words to fully explain just how important, enjoyable, and breath-taking this novel is to me; The Mysteries of Udolpho is simply one of the greatest written works ever produced. While this is a Gothic novel, arguably the greatest Gothic novel ever written, it is so much more than that. "Gothic" denotes dark castles, spectral haunts, dastardly deeds performed by cruel, mysterious men--certainly these elements are here. However, a large portion of this novel is simply beautiful--no one I know of has ever described the simple grandeur of life and nature or waxed more poetically on the noble merits of love and honor as does Ann Radcliffe.
Emily is one of the most memorable characters in all of fiction. To be frank, I simply fell in love with her. Through her, I was able to not only see but to better appreciate life itself and the simple beauties it manifests. When she was hurt or pained, I shared her sorrow; many times, I felt compelled to jump up and somehow defend her against the monstrous injustices inflicted upon her. I admired her morality and deep commitment to honor, a commitment so deep that she sacrificed in deference to it her own deep love for Valancourt, a love so deep that it alone allowed her to withstand the horrors of Count Montoni and the castle of Udolpho. Certainly, Emily is very sensitive and overdramatic, and she does tend to faint a lot, but she is a pure angel to someone like myself who is a Victorian at heart.
The Gothic horror is very well done, but it does not take up nearly as much of the novel as I had anticipated. Radcliffe can bring chills to readers even today. The description of someone's silent entry by night into Emily's room is spine-tingling, as are the descriptions of Emily's reluctant journeys down to the catacombs beneath the castle. The wide-eyed Annette's rambling descriptions of supernatural manifestations feed Emily's and the reader's own fears. Emily escapes from the nefarious castle about two-thirds of the way through the novel, but a number of strange events at Chateau-le-Blanc quickly serve to return the reader to the dark dimensions of fright. At that point, I wondered how so much story could be left to tell, but Radcliffe introduced new characters and new situations as compelling as those that had come before and succeeded in absorbing me even further into this world of her creation. Lady Blanche inspired in me many of the feelings I felt for Emily, and the resulting story not only added much to the experience of this novel but ultimately helped to tie many threads together. The experience of Emily and Annette in the late Countess' room, shut up for 20 years since the lady's mysterious death, was as frightening as any scene that took place inside the walls of Udolpho. I did worry as I neared the final pages that Radcliffe would not successfully explain everything that had taken place or would leave some loose ends dangling--the only thing I was left wondering, however, was what happened to the dog Emily took with her to Udolpho after she escaped.
I wish I could mention all of the wonderful characters and all of the scenes and events, both beautiful and horrific, to be found in these pages. These were times when I literally had to put one hand across the page to keep from jumping ahead to see what was about to happen. I do want to stress the beauty and romance of the novel because these aspects are overshadowed by the perception people have of Gothic literature. The story of Emily and Valancourt is one of the greatest love stories in literature. Future readers, please don't pick the novel up until such a time as you are truly committed to reading it; it is rather long, and this is not a novel you will want to lay aside for several days at a time. Also, the first 100 pages or so are somewhat hard to get through. Radcliffe paints a living portrait of nature in these pages, describing more details than I could ever even hope to witness. You won't encounter the Gothic horror you may be expecting until you get rather deeply into the story, so keep that in mind. Approach this novel as you would a work of art because that is exactly what it is.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like a long and complex dream,
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This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)After having read the mere 176-page original gothic tale of 1764, Horace Walpole's "The Castle of Otranto", I embarked on this 672-page equally-famous gothic fantasy by Ann Radcliffe, published thirty years later, and a best-selling literary phenomenon of its day.
The opening of Terry Castle's incisive introduction to the work notes that, "Perhaps no work in the history of English fiction has been more often caricatured." It is supposed to be "the greatest (or at least the most famous) of gothic romances ... has an archetypal `gothic villain' ... is loaded with exotic scenery ... [and] its heroine, a victim of `sensibility', faints a lot." But whilst common opinion may see it as "a bit of a `silly' book too", the conscientious reader must actually "feel a twinge of bad faith"; Udolpho is actually "bigger, baggier and more uncanny than one thought it was." This is so true.
Whilst not denying a strong gothic element in the writing, the book is also a travelogue, a morality tale, a commentary on manners, and even a comedy of errors; just like Shakespeare, the servants provide a focus for humour, and Radcliffe is not even averse to parody herself as well as the tale she tells. Indeed, one can even view the novel as a typical Jane Austen romance - a woman, her marriage options, and the descent of landed property feature heavily in the plot - but this time set on the continent and in a gothic milieu; Jane Austen even drew on some of the scenes for her `Northanger Abbey' of 1818. But Terry Castle draws attention to the title of the novel, namely the `mysteries' of Udolpho. Thus one can add to the long list of genres set out above, even that of an Agatha Christie murder-mystery, a product of the new age of enlightenment when old-style superstitious mystery was replaced by its more reasoned newcomer, although "Radcliffe's supposedly `rational' explanations are at times almost more implausible than the supernatural explanations they are meant to displace."
Whilst the consensus about the book's merits might be overwhelmingly negative - "too long, feeble in characterisation ... lacking in moral or intellectual gravitas ... [and] full of absurdities" - a closer examination reveals "a meticulous stylist ... who can create moments of considerable drama". Indeed, the style of writing is worthy of remark. The book is full of long sentences, often beautifully constructed. The book must be read at a stately pace to accord with the natural breath of the author's rhythm. Did she speak in this way, or are the construction of sentences designed so as to be read aloud within family groups as they sat before the fire on cold, dark, late-eighteenth century evenings? This style can lead to artifice, and the excessive number of commas can be exasperating on occasions.
There are whole chapters of descriptive prose about the sublime effects of the natural landscape. These are of more value than mere curiosity; the author writes very well with a sharp eye for detail. Terry Castle sagely compares her prose in this regard to the landscapes paintings of Salvatore Rosa, Poussin and Claude Lorraine that Radcliffe admired. This is all the more amazing, as she never visited the places she describes in such detail, but sees them through the eyes of fancy. Actually, she saw them through the eyes of the likes of Tobias Smollett and Hester Thrale Piozzi whose travel books she greatly relied upon. Geographically, the novel forms an arc: volume one is set in Gascony and Languedoc; volume two in Venice and Udolpho; volume three in Udolpho and Tuscany; and volume four back in Gascony and Languedoc.
Ostensibly set in the year 1584, the book is imbued with the manners and sensibilities of genteel England of 1794. For this reason, I found it convenient to forego imagining a strict rendition of time and place. Whilst the number of precise factual anachronisms is small, they are nevertheless difficult to ignore; they include such items as coffee drinking, the names of English poets, the use of knives and forks, the wearing by ladies of certain hats, and the naming of rooms as `saloons'. Moreover, the description afforded to the city of Venice is more akin to the 1780s, or what Terry Castle in her introduction describes as "the elegant Venice of Canaletto and Goldoni", rather than that of the 1580s and the city of Tintoretto and Monteverdi.
There is very little character development. Indeed, there is very little character at all, since the novel revolves almost entirely around our heroine Emily. People come into her life and then leave only when they have some part to play in Emily's story. Even her dog, who appears to be her constant companion in all her travels, appears a mere two or three occasions in order to heighten tension or play a minor part in Emily's experiences: on his second appearance, as our heroine seeks to escape from the castle in which she is held, the dog's yapping threatens to disclose her position, but I had by then even forgotten the dog's very existence, so notably absent had his presence become.
So, what is this novel to be? A gothic romance? Travelogue? Morality tale? Commentary on manners or comedy of errors? Or enlightenment mystery? Why, all of the above, of course. But in a twist of blazing insight, perhaps Terry Castle is right to recommend this book for 21st century readers as a precursor of Freud's work on the unconscious, for "like a long and complex dream - the kind in which pleasure and apprehension are so closely intermingled as to become indistinguishable - the book repays imaginative introspection." When Radcliffe writes halfway through her novel that, the heroine "blamed herself for suffering her romantic imagination to carry her so far beyond the bounds of probability, and determined to endeavour to check its rapid flights, lest they should sometimes extend into madness", she is warning the incautious reader too.
The usual high standards of the Oxford University Press's World's Classics editions are upheld in this volume. Not only the introduction, but also the standard textual note, select bibliography, chronology and end-notes all appear to guide and enhance the experience. As with all reprints of classic works of literature, I recommend that the so-called introduction (which is really more of a commentary) is best read after the novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Its A Classic,
This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)I bought this book through reading about it in Northanger Abby by Jane Austen. For years it just stayed on my shelf as i had other books to read and everytime i tried to get in to this one i couldn't pass the first 3 pages. Then on holiday i decided to bite the bullet and read it once and for all. what a good decision.
i found once into it; a book captivating, descriptive, intense and imaginative in its plot and found myself wondering at myself as to why i had put off reading it for so long. The plot could easily be the basis for a modern day hollywood blockbuster horror film; girl born into happy family, family dies, moves to live with foolish aunt and eventually evil step uncle; enprisoned in haunted castle by uncle untill she gives up inheritance, escape, falls in love, and...well read to find out more.
The writing style can be descriptive and flowery sometimes, but i think this only adds to the story line and makes the build up better. And bysides, this was the writing style popular when published in the 18th century.
In all a very good, captivating read which i found hard to put down, and would recommend to all classic readers.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly descriptive,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)After glancing over Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey', it occurred to me that the genre she parodied may, in fact, be more enjoyable than many of her own works. Having already read novels such as Lewis's 'The Monk' and Walpople's 'Castle of Otranto', I was already familiar with the gothic novel which was taken to new heights by Ann Radcliffe in 'The Mysteries of Udolpho'. As ever, co-incidence is frequent, perhaps overly, but the descriptive genius of the author more than compensated for this tiny flaw. The amazing beauty of the countryside is starkly contrasted with the gloomy Udolpho inhabited by the sinister Montoni, guardian of the heroine, Emily St. Aubert who's naive innocent causes her to swoon and faint with somewhat irritable regularity.
With it's grippingly mind-engaging plot, 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' flowed well under the desire to unravel the mysteries, forming a well-rounded novel, yet, in my opinion, to be paralleled in a balance of it's style, characterization and description. Basically, an amazing book that truly deserves the attention of all readers.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rip-roaring Gothic, red and raw in tooth and claw.,
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This review is from: The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)This book is great fun. It's far too long, and some bits of it simply don't make sense, but you can see why Ann Radcliffe's work was so inspirational to so many other writers. Her descriptions of the French and Italian countryside are beautiful (which is all the more astonishing as she never went to those places!), but it is the scenes set in the Castle that are the best. It's like a heady mix of Poe, the Marquis de Sade, Vincent Price films, and a bit of Mills and Boon-style romance. There's even the odd bit of sword-fighting thrown in for good measure. There are some enjoyably OTT Gothic parts, such as Emily's awful aunt being carted off to the tower, the bloodstained body found in the gatehouse, and a bit of a stroll round the catacombs. Plus Emily may scream and faint a lot but she is certainly no wimp. I've knocked off a star because the last couple of hundred pages or so can get very tedious, I found myself losing interest once Emily had left the Castle, plus we don't get to see enough of her wicked guardian. He's an interesting character, different to the usual demonic cad you get in this kind of thing (he has no sexual designs on Emily for one thing, he's solely interested in her for her money and the advantages that marrying her off to the highest bidder can bring). Also I could have done without the stock comic servants and their hammy way of talking, I kept expecting the maid to exclaim "lor bless you ma'am!" (in fact for all I can remember she may well have done!) It would be great fun to see this filmed, but you'd have to do it in a very panto-ish way!
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mysteries Of Udolpho - A Review by Barry Van - Asten,
This is a real 'monster' of a novel and the mind becomes totally engrossed in the imaginary scenes Radcliffe creates. The moments of activity by supernatural agents, is explained away as natural and most by human creation. But the delight of the book is the author's descriptive powers and wonderful characters, which really have an energy all of their own and take shape in the heart - a wonderful journey of emotion!
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The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) by Ann Radcliffe (Paperback - 18 Jun 1998)
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