Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe was quite an undertaking, as it was just under an intimidating 700 pages of tiny print. But this prose novel has been one of the most satisfying experiences in literature. So much so, that it has, in fact, become my favorite book of all time. I was in the midst of my Jane Austin kick when I came to read Northanger Abbey, which is chalk-full of references to this book. In fact, the protagonist of the novel was rather obsessed with the gothic thriller, propelling her into a great fascination for dark castles and mystery. This, of course, caught my attention, as it sounded like a lot of fun. I also discovered, while reading up on the book, that it has an important place in literary history, as it was influential in the rise of romanticism, was important in gothic literature's history, and served to help shape the modern detective novel (all of which the introduction of the Barnes & Noble Books edition of this book serves to explain under the expert hand of Lisa M. Dresner) It was also the very first romance (romance being sentimental and character-driven and, yes, containing a struggle for love to endure) with a female heroine, prompting the likes of Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters to write their masterpieces based on its merits. But it's much more than a romance, as it's also a novel of manners, a mystery, a travelogue, and contains pages of poetry. Modern readers may find some of the details a little tedious, but I honestly thoroughly enjoyed the description of the scenes, and couldn't imagine the book without them. In the novel, Emily St. Aubert evades destruction at the hands of those who mean to use her and does her best to unlock the mysteries surrounding the castle of Udolpho, where she is held against her will. The surprises keep coming in this novel and things don't necessarily end up as you'd expect them to. The story is also constantly in motion, moving from one kind of story to another fluidly, while weaving an intricate mystery over the entire novel. I highly recommend The Mysteries of Udolpho to anyone who likes reading, let alone likes reading novels.

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