Adventures in Reading

More on the Mysteries of Udolpho
December 24, 2007, 8:07 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction

I realized in hindsight that in my last post on The Mysteries of Udolpho by Mrs. Radcliffe that I had said the book was out of print. This is not true. The novel is not out of print but it certainly is not something I have ever come across in a bookstore, but I obtained a (I believe) Penguin edition of it on Amazon. I apologize for the blunder, but for the most part I write my posts as stream of conscious entries that I save and post when I have Internet access, and I must admit I rarely proof read. (Egad! I know, but I hate reading my writing right after it has been written.)

The Mysteries of Udolpho is going wonderfully. Granted, the heroine Emily faints, or feels faint, or looks faint about once every ten pages, but once you get beyond that it is a sensational read. I also can see why the book was so popular: Radcliffe’s descriptions of France, architecture, and landscape are gorgeous. Consider individuals who were never going to go on the Grand Tour (i.e. almost all women or anyone outside of the “gentleman class”) could now have delightful scenic descriptions tied in with a page turning thriller.

A brief excerpt as an example of Radcliffe’s detail: “Meanwhile, the sullen grey of the eastern clouds began to blush, then to redden, and then to glow with a thousand colours, till the golden light darted over all the air, touched the lower points of the mountain’s brow, and glanced in long sloping beams upon the valley and its stream” (36).

The book is quite romantic and ghastly, and if you can envision Mr. Tilney’s thrilling tale he tells to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey you have a fairly accurate summary. Cemeteries, convents, ghosts, mysterious music, secret containers, beautiful and fainting heroines, dashing heroes, moral lessons, and more punctuate the novel. Additionally, one of the endnotes (from the 1970 edition with an introduction by Bonamy Dobrée and explanatory notes by Frederick Garber) expands on the importance paintings from the period had on influencing Radcliffe.

Specifically the endnotes discuss Salvator Rosa and Domenico Zampieri, and how “It was commonplace even in the earliest criticism of her novels to mention Mrs. Radcliffe’s affinities (or more accurately, similarities of perception) with the seventeenth-century Italian painter whose wildly craggy landscapes, peopled with shepherds and banditti, were especially popular and influential in eighteenth-century England” (674). This expands to describe that “outline, mass, and elaborate shadings of chiaroscuro create an atmosphere in which awe serves only to heighten the sense of imminent danger and permanent terror which goes into an experience of the sublime” (674).

1 Comment

Glad I stummled upon your blog.

Comment by balkan

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