Friday, October 21, 2011

Retro Friday Review & Classics Circuit Tour: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Doing double duty today with the Classics Circuit Tour of Gothic Lit and a Retro Friday review:

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and "focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc."

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
Publisher: Various
Publication date: 1794
ISBN: Various
Source: Library

Emily has lived an ideal life with her loving parents, until sorrow is thrust upon her when first one and then the other parent dies. Left alone in the care of an unfeeling aunt, she soon finds herself in the power of the merciless man her aunt marries. Shut away in the gloomy and haunted castle of Udolpho, she suffers afflictions of all kinds. Will she escape from her wicked uncle and the unwholesome company he keeps?

Things I Liked:
This is my first experience with a serious Gothic book (ok, I read Frankenstein and Northanger Abbey, but I'm excluding those).  I admit it was hard getting back into reading a classic, since I'm used to less archaic language.  What totally surprised me was just how creepy the story was!  When it finally got to the interesting stuff (see below for more on that) I was completely enthralled and creeped out!  No wonder young ladies read these with abandon.  All the dreadful and mysterious and unearthly things that could possibly happen to one heroine do.  I really wanted to read this in conjunction with Northanger Abbey, but ran out of time.  But I could see why if Cathy was reading all these Gothic romances she might start imagining and suspecting everyone around her.  It was lurid and disturbing and completely not what I expected.  Which made it quite an enjoyable Halloween read!

Things I Didn't Like:
As I mentioned above, the book really had a slow beginning.  If I hadn't been reading it for the Classics Tour, I'd have given up, which would have been a shame.  But it was about 150-200 pages in before I finally became interested in what was happening.  Enough with descriptions of pastoral scenes and natural beauty!  The story also kind of jumped around weirdly in places, randomly taking us to other characters very briefly to see what they did.  It is definitely a book to be enjoyed by those who aren't daunted by archaic phrasing and pages of description.  A nice abridged version would be great, or even a good movie version!

Definitely Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Anything else by Ann Radcliffe

s-factor: !
perhaps one or two

mrg-factor: none
only some obliquely implied stuff

v-factor: ->
it has a touch of some disturbing stuff

Overall rating: ***

Thoughts on Gothic lit or this book in particular?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage 


  1. Ooh, nice Halloween choice. I had to laugh at your, "no wonder young ladies read this with abandon." :) I always think of that scene in The Jane Austen Book Club when they're all stunned that Grigg read THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO as part of their NORTHANGER ABBEY discussion. Awesome.

  2. Ok, you've convinced me. I'll push through the boring beginning and try reading this again. I had such an awful old copy that had practically no paragraph breaks, so I think I'll try to get a better copy next time too. Thank you for rekindling my motivation! I've wanted to read it ever since I read and loved Northanger Abbey.

  3. Angie, would it be too embarrassing for me to admit I've never read or seen Jane Austen Book Club? *hangs head in shame* But now I want to even more!

    Small, ooh I hope you do try it again. But no paragraph breaks? Yikes, I'd have given up too. Definitely give it a few hundred pages to pick up, though :)

  4. I read this one, too, for the RIP challenge, and then Northanger Abbey, for the Classics Circuit. It was really fun!!

  5. Jillian, I've got to get to Northanger Abbey again soon, before I forget all about this book :)


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