Tag Archives: Ann Radcliffe

Ann Ward Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho


I was drawn to reading this book after reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey where the female characters are enthralled by it and compare it to other perfectly “horrid” books, other gothic novels that they are reading. Udolpho consists of four volumes that download as one book from the Gutenberg Project and they took me 27 hours to read. It took me a long time to read the first half but for the last half I could not put my Kobo down and read it all in the past week. It’s a wonder I did not miss my stop on the metro and only miss the bus stop at home once.

To the extent that the book is a true reflection of life at the time in which the story is set (late 16th century, two hundred years earlier than the time of publication), it shows an interesting picture of the lack of independence afforded to women as long as they had parents or family appointed as guardians. The book only shows the heroine, Emily, as an independent young women quite capable of taking her own decisions (in spite of a strong propensity to faint) once her guardians have died. She can then take possession of the properties that were already in her name and settle where she wants.

And the whole drama of the book starts from this very dependence. After her parents’ death, Emily becomes the ward of her aunt, Madame Cheron, a wealthy widow, if I remember well. The aunt then proceeds to make an ill-advised marriage to an Italian noble, Montoni, who soon insist that they return to his home in Venice. It turns out that he is a gambler who has lost of fortune and married Madame Cheron for her money. He also attempts to marry Emily to some associates of his in order to gain access to their riches. When some of his plans fall through, he removes his establishment to the remote castle of Udolpho in the Appenines. Emily’s vows then become more severe as she is a virtual prisoner at the castle and has to see her aunt die as a result of Montoni’s mistreatment of her.

After some additional difficulties, Emily manages to escape and find her way back to France where she hopes to reunite with the man she had vowed to marry, whom she had met while her father was still alive. At the time that they meet, she learns that he had fallen victim to a number of vices, one of them gambling, and she concludes that he is no longer worthy of associating with her. This was in part due to a series of misunderstanding. In the end, this misunderstanding is resolved, and many mysteries encountered along the way (ghostly apparitions, strange musical phenomena, disappearances, and uncanny resemblances) are  all logically explained and Emily marries the love of her life and settles in the old home where she grew up to live comfortably and happily.

The novel features many trips on land and water, through difficult mountainous terrain where travelers are constantly threaten by the dangers of the landscape and the possible presence of criminals. The descriptions of the majesty of various locations (the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Appenines) are very vivid and provide a perfect backdrop to the adventures of the many lovable characters that Radcliffe develops in this book.

The author also describes in minute details the emotions and physical reactions of the main characters as they work through the elation of young love, the disappointments of perceived betrayals, and the many fearful moments they encounter throughout the novel.

This book was indeed very entertaining and I would very much like to read other books by Ann Radcliffe, if I don’t get buried by a mountain of unread books that threaten to topple over me as I write this note.

Monday Night Ramblings: Novels and Journals


I finally started Sofi Oksanen’s Quand les colombres disparurent, her fourth novel and the third one translated in French. Similarly to the other two, it is in part set in Estonia and chronicles the lives of ordinary people dealing with extraordinarily difficult life circumstances.

I have also started Hess by Per Olov Enquist which is so far rather a difficult read. It is based on the life of the Nazi Rudolf Hess. So both novels are somewhat political.

I am finally at the half-way mark in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, after over 15 hours of reading. That is quite a large book… The heroine, Emilie St. Aubert, is still in the clutches of her uncle, Mr. Montoni, a virtual prisoner at Castle Udolpho in the Appenines. The mystery is quite thick at this point. We don’t know what Montoni is up to, besides trying to scare his wife, Emily’s aunt, into letting all her wealth come into his possession. We have seen earlier that he squandered his whole fortune gambling, but at Castle Udolpho, he seems to be up to something rather more sinister, given the company he keeps. Emily also feels threatened by his behavior and fears for her life. The castle also scares her: mysterious passageways, strange guests, unexplainable noises in the night… Many things are causing to freeze in place or collapse  completely. The author describes Emilie’s state of mind and its many variations in quite a lot of detail.

One of the most fascinating reads I got into lately is the special summer issue of the French magazine Books about journals (http://www.books.fr/archives/numero-45/). It features reviews of a number of journals by people who were not necessarily famous yet no less interesting observers of life around them. The journals reviewed vary in terms of historical period (Antiquity to our times) and locations (England, Germany, Japan, China, Russia, United States, etc.). Some people only wrote a journal at critical times in their lives, while for others it was a life-long endeavour. I was surprised by the extent to which some people tried to ensure the privacy of their writings by encoding some of it. Why would someone feel compelled to write down details of their lives and opinions only to conceal them? Given that the act of writing can very well assist in clarifying one’s thoughts, it may be how these people made sense of their own actions and of the events in their lives and may still not have wanted to have others read them. Certainly some have had journals discovered and seized and were punished for their contents.

Many novels feature fictional journal extracts or are themselves journal. This is the case with the Sofi Oksanen novel. A journal was a significant part of Lars Gustafson’s Death of the Beekeeper. What other novels do you know of where that is the case?


Sunday Morning Ramblings on a hot, sticky weekend


This has been in blah weekend for reading… I cannot concentrate on anything, or not a single book I have tried to start in the past four day has really captured my attention, except maybe for Dany Laferrière’s L’art presque perdu de ne rien faire. This is a book of reflections about the world, often written based on childhood memories that tries to recreate the innocent way a child looks at the world, mixed with the incisiveness of the writer’s pen. It has Laferrière’s unmistakable style. While it is mostly written in prose, it contains some pages of poetry.

Besides that, I am trying to do some more serious reading, such as a book of sociology by Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serroy, L’esthétisation du monde. In this book, they analyze current trends in branding and design that are more and more embedded in mass consumption, which they called “artistic capitalism”, not that capitalism becomes more artistic, but that capitalism co-opts art to make money and uses art strictly for its monetary value.

I am also reading a book on change called Dangerous Opportunity. It defines three styles in which people react to change and the impact it has on how we can lead change efforts.

As far as fiction is concerned, I am slowly making my way through Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, but there is nothing mysterious to it yet. Just the story of a man whose wife dies and who goes on a journey with his daughter in order to lessen the pain of their loss. On this journey, they meet a nice, helpful young man who joins them. They are travelling in the South of France, in Languedoc or Roussillon, near the Pyrenees. Since the references to this book in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey called it a perfectly horrid little book, one would expect at some point to be plunged in some gothic mystery involving malevolent spirits, but that is yet to come it seems.

I also started Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I couldn’t get into it. I’ll just have to wait for the appropriate mood to come.

I have pretty much gone through all articles on interest in Le Magazine littéraire’s April 2013 issue on “L’écriture de soi”, or “Writing the Self”. The theme covered some issues such as the difference between fiction, autofiction, and autobiography. One key question is “When is a novel a novel” if it is based on events lived or witnessed by the author, and where is there enough detachment or distance from reality to claim that the any resemblance to known individuals or events completely fortuitous.  

As you can see, my mind is a bit of a scattered mess these days…


Laferrière, Dany. L’art presque perdu de ne rien faire. Boréal, Montréal, 2011.

Lipovetsky, Gilles et Jean Serroy. L’esthétisation du monde : Vivre à l’âge du capitalisme artiste. Gallimard, 2013.

Musselwhite, Chris with Randell Jones. Dangerous Opportunity : Making Change Work. 2nd edition. Discovery Learning, 2010.

Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolpho. From Gutenberg Project. 1794.

Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl. Random House, 2012.