Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Preview…Every now and then, we read books with such descriptive imagery that we cannot escape the recurrence of these pictures in our heads.

This morning, as I walked my Golden Retriever, Polo, up and down our lonely and deserted street, the howling wind lashing against my skin, I could not help but notice a faint pink-pinkling in the distance. Listening carefully, I made out the quiet song of a wind chime, but could not place its location.

Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” immediately sprung to mind. Radcliffe’s description of the midnight music in the woods, with no known origin and an abundance of legends to describe its presence, belongs to one of only two novels that was written so perfectly that it frightened me to read of it.

To continue, I really and truly had to have my husband sit next to me with all of the lights in the house on, just so that I wouldn’t get too frightened.

Udolpho, thus named for the castle where much of the action takes place, is the original Gothic novel.

Throughout its pages, we follow the misfortunes of Emily St. Aubert as she is orphaned by the death of her father, tragically separated from the man she loves and subjected to one mystery, one terror, one torture after the next at the hands of her villainous uncle-by-marriage, Montoni.

The plot does not follow a predictable pattern, and it is near impossible to tease out the answers to its enigmatic circumstances. In Udolpho, you will meet Emily, a damsel in unquestionably real distress, Valancourt, the very picture of chivalry and love’s everlasting devotion, Count Montoni, evil personified, and many other characters with deep psychological motives for their actions.

If you enjoy poetry, you will love the sonnets, haikus and other forms of verse wedged in between the lush prose of the primary storyline. It’s astonishing a film adaptation has never been attempted.

You may like this book if… you are interested in reading the novel from which a whole new literary genre was derived, you like works by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, you enjoy being just a bit terrified by your reading materials, you like love-triumphs-over-evil themes, you are intrigued by secret passageways, you enjoy being puzzled, you are tired of the transparency of many modern mysteries, you appreciate depictive imagery and poetry that ties into the storyline, you are a fan of “verdure”

You may not like this book if… you have a hard time wrapping your head around lofty language, reading page after page describing the beauty of the French countryside is just too tedious (it was for me too, but it won’t last forever), 700 pages is just too long for one book in your opinion, you do not care to read about such grotesque villains as Montoni, you feel proud of yourself for figuring out mysteries before the author reveals their answers

Mrs. Storm

Writing everything from Sweet Romance to Children's Books to Nonfiction, Melissa loves books, birds, and bonbons--in that order. She has an advanced degree that she never uses.