The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho
The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry  
Title page from first edition.
Title page from first edition.
Author(s) Ann Radcliffe
Country England
Language English
Genre(s) Gothic novel
Publisher G. G. and J. Robinson
Publication date 8 May 1794
Media type Print (Hardcover), 4 volumes

The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, was published in four volumes on 8 May 1794 by G. G. and J. Robinson of London. The firm paid her £500 for the manuscript.[1] The contract is housed at the University of Virginia Library. Her fourth and most popular novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho follows the fortunes of Emily St. Aubert who suffers, among other misadventures, the death of her father, supernatural terrors in a gloomy castle, and the machinations of an Italian brigand. Often cited as the archetypal Gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho plays a prominent role in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey, in which an impressionable young woman, after reading Radcliffe's novel, comes to see her friends and acquaintances as Gothic villains and victims with amusing results.[2]


Plot introduction

The Mysteries of Udolpho is a quintessential Gothic romance, replete with incidents of physical and psychological terror; remote, crumbling castles; seemingly supernatural events; a brooding, scheming villain; and a persecuted heroine. Radcliffe also added extensive descriptions of exotic landscapes in the Pyrenees and Apennines. Set in 1584 in southern France and northern Italy, the novel focuses on the plight of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman who is orphaned after the death of her father. Emily suffers imprisonment in the castle Udolpho at the hands of Signor Montoni, an Italian brigand who has married her aunt and guardian Madame Cheron. Emily's romance with the dashing Valancourt is frustrated by Montoni and others. Emily also investigates the mysterious relationship between her father and the Marchioness de Villeroi, and its connection to the castle Udolpho.

Plot summary

Emily St. Aubert is the only child of a landed rural family whose fortunes are now in decline. Emily and her father share an especially close bond, due to their shared appreciation for nature. After her mother's death from a serious illness, Emily and her father grow even closer. She accompanies him on a journey from their native Gascony, through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast of Roussillon, over many mountainous landscapes. During the journey, they encounter Valancourt, a handsome man who also feels an almost mystical kinship with the natural world. Emily and Valancourt quickly fall in love.

Emily's father succumbs to a long illness. Emily, now orphaned, is forced by his wishes to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron, who shares none of Emily's interests and shows little affection to her. Her aunt marries Montoni, a dubious nobleman from Italy. He wants his friend Count Morano to become Emily′s husband, and tries to force her to marry him. After discovering that Morano is nearly ruined he brings Emily and his wife to his remote castle of Udolpho. Emily fears to have lost Valancourt forever. Morano searches for Emily and tries to carry off her secretly from Udolpho. Emily refuses to join him because her heart still belongs to Valancourt. Morano′s attempt to escape is discovered by Montoni, who wounds the Count and chases him away. In the following months Montoni threatens his wife with violence to force her to sign over her properties in Toulouse, which upon her death would otherwise go to Emily. Without resigning her estate Madame Cheron dies of a severe illness caused by her husband′s harshness. Many frightening but coincidental events happen within the castle, but Emily is able to flee from it with the help of her secret admirer Du Pont, who was a prisoner at Udolpho, and the servants Annette and Ludovico. Returning to the estate of her aunt, Emily learns that Valancourt went to Paris and lost his wealth. In the end she takes control of the property and is reunited with Valancourt.

Characters in The Mysteries of Udolpho

Emily: Much of the action takes place from her point of view. She is unusually beautiful and gentle with a slight, graceful figure, fond of books, nature, poetry, and music. She is described as extremely virtuous, obedient, resourceful, brave, sensitive, and self-reliant.

St. Aubert: Emily's father, who dies early in the novel while he, Emily, and Valancourt are travelling. He warns Emily on his death bed to not become a victim of her feelings but to acquire command over her emotions. His unaccountable relationship with the Marchioness de Villeroi is one of the novel's central mysteries.

Valancourt: The younger brother of the Count Duvarney, Valancourt forms an attachment to Emily while traveling with her and her father through the Pyrenees. He is a dashing, enthusiastic young man with a noble character, on furlough from the army when he meets Emily. St. Aubert considers Valancourt a desirable match for Emily, though Valancourt lacks wealth.

Madame Cheron: St. Aubert's sister and Emily's aunt. Madame Cheron is a selfish, worldly, vain, wealthy widow living on her estate near Toulouse when Emily becomes her ward after St. Aubert's death. She is contemptuous and cold, even cruel, to Emily at first, and thinks solely of herself: but near her death, when Emily patiently and selflessly aids and comforts her, she softens slightly towards her.

Montoni: The prototypical Gothic villain. Brooding, haughty, and scheming, he masquerades as an Italian nobleman to gain Madame Cheron's hand in marriage, then imprisons Emily and Madame Cheron in Udolpho in an attempt to acquire control over Madame Cheron's fortune. He is cold and often cruel to Emily.

Count Morano: Introduced to Emily by Montoni, who commands that she marry Morano. Emily refuses but Morano continues to pursue her in Venice and later Udolpho. When Montoni finds out that Count Morano is not as rich as he hoped, he abruptly withdraws his support from Count Morano's suit, and thus Count Morano attempts to abduct Emily by force twice, though both attempts fail.

Annette: A maid who accompanied Madame Cheron from France. Annette is inclined to exaggeration and superstition, and is talkative, but she is faithful, affectionate and honest. She is in love with Ludovico.

Ludovico: One of Montoni's servants. He falls in love with Annette and provides assistance to Emily. He is more sensible than Annette, and is both brave and quick thinking.

Cavigni, Verezzi, and Bertolini: Cavaliers and friends of Montoni. Cavigini is sly, careful, and flatteringly assiduous. Verezzi is a "man of some talent, of fiery imagination, and the slave of alternate passions. He was gay, voluptuous, and daring; yet had neither perseverance or true courage, and was meanly selfish in all his aims." Bertolini is brave, unsuspicious, merry, dissipated, and of extreme extravagance; his free flightiness to Emily distresses her.

Orsino: An assassin described as the "chief favourite of Montoni". He is cruel, suspicious, relentlessly vengeful, and merciless.

References in other works

  • The novel is referenced multiple times in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey, which satirizes it.
  • In Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia, one of the characters describes a garden as worthy of Udolpho (Faber and Faber edition, p. 13).
  • Henry James asks at the beginning of Chapter IV of The Turn of the Screw: "Was there a 'secret' at Bly — a mystery of Udolpho or an insane, an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?"
  • The Veiled Picture; or, The Mysteries of Gorgono (1802) is a chapbook abridgement of The Mysteries of Udolpho preserving most characters and plot elements, but dispensing with details and descriptions.
  • In Herman Melville's Billy Budd, a vital element in Claggart's and Billy Budd's relationship is "assumed... in its very realism as much charged with that prime element of Radcliffian romance, the mysterious, as any that the ingenuity of the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho could devise."
  • In Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Dmitri's defence lawyer Fetyukovich tells the jury that the missing money claimed to be hidden in Mokroye by the prosecuting attorney, since it was never recovered, might as well have been hidden 'in a dungeon in the Castle Udolpho', saying such an assumption is 'a flight of pure imagination straight from a Gothic novel'.
  • In C. Northcote Parkinson's The Devil to Pay, set in 1794, the young lieutenant hero has been plunged into local intrigue on accepting the command of a small revenue cutter on the Isle of Wight. The niece of a local landowner rumoured to own several smuggling vessels, who flirts with him, mentions her enjoyment of Mrs Radcliffe's recent novel. The lieutenant also reads and comments on it.
  • In 2007, The Mysteries of Udolpho was published as a graphic novel in a volume of the Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics series.[3]
  • Udolpho Castle is referenced in the introduction to Sir Walter Scott'sWaverley.
  • Barbara G. Walker, in The Skeptical Feminist, reprinted an analysis of The Mysteries of Udolpho that she had written at university. She describes Emily as suffering "softening of the brain every few days or so", Valancourt as "a squeaky-clean Boy Scout type whose mind is almost as untroubled by any gleam of real intelligence as Emily’s own", and Montoni as "the villain, and a sinister moustachio-twirler he is, too." She says of Castle Udolpho itself, "Compared to Montoni’s mountain hideaway, Castle Dracula is a country day school. There are ghosts, night noises, bloodthirsty banditti guarding the ramparts. In the room next to her own, Emily looks behind a black curtain, and is nearly prostrated by the sight of a horror so horrible that the author declines to describe it."
  • In the Cartoon Network airing of "Young Justice" on 10/7/2011: Robin searches the Happy Hollow library bookshelves, and pulls on a copy of "The Mysteries Of Udolpho" to open a secret passageway to elude the bad guys.


  1. ^ The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame d'Arblay) Vol. III, 1793-97. Ed. Joyce Hemlow etc. (Oxford: OUP, 1973), p. 63, n. 8;
  2. ^ Webber, Caroline. "The Mysteries of Udolpho". The Literary Encyclopedia. 11 October 2008. Accessed 4 June 2011.
  3. ^ Pomplun, Tom: "Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14". Eureka Productions, 2007.

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