Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho

I’ve been finishing up some writing projects, so I’ve been a little quiet on here. However, in the midst of all of the writing, I did take some time to read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for years: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

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It’s an old book, published in 1794. It’s a long pieces of work (over 600 pages) and is the book that is considered the start of the genre of Gothic literature. It’s been a long time since I read a book from the 18th century, so I was preparing myself to slowly read through the pages, digesting each sentence to make sense of the stilted, archaic language. However, I was wrong. Okay, the words “countenance,” “honor,” and “esteem” are heavily used in this book, but the book is way ahead of its time in sense of sentence and story structure. There are also numerous tears that fall and fainting spells that happen (I mean a lot), but there’s mystery, horror, psychological thrills, and romance all neatly packaged within its pages. These pages follow the story of Emily, an orphan cast into the hands of her evil guardian, Count Montoni. Hidden away in the mountains of Italy in the Castle of Udolopho, Emily is not only at the mercy of Montoni’s wrath as he sets out to claim ownership of her estates, but placed within psychological duress as she uncovers the many haunting secrets of the castle and tries in vain to reconnect with her lover, Valancourt.

It took awhile for this book to grow on me but now that I’ve finished the book, I feel lonely without it (and that’s a good sign). I haven’t read a good, old-fashioned thriller (and romance!) in awhile and this has all the twists, turns, and surprises that I would hope for in such a novel.

I also think this book grew on me because of the many references to nature found within it. Though a pioneering piece for Gothic literature, the book is technically part of the Romantic Era and Radcliffe wastes no time in detailing the awe inspiring Pyrenees, the turquoise Mediterranean, and bountiful forests that make up many of her descriptive paragraphs. Emily also has an appreciation of nature that offers her comfort and solace when in duress; nature is also something that she and her lover connect upon. In short, I find it beautiful and terribly romantic.

Radcliffe was one of the highest paid authors of her day for her books and there’s not a doubt as to why. If you’re looking for something different and something somewhat challenging to for your summer reading, check out The Mysteries of Udolopho.

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