I’ve been waiting for this. You guys will not believe how good this book is. It’s a really old one again, from the 1700s, and it’s one of the originals. You remember Castle of Otranto? Some people say this book’s more responsible for the Gothic than that book was. Oh yeah. Get ready for a treat: The Mysteries of Udolpho.
So the plot is that the main character, Emily, is a really sensitive but sheltered girl being raised in near seclusion by her wealthy but sensitive parents. It’s an exciting way to start a book, especially since Radcliffe makes sure to describe how they sit under the trees and read, sit at a patio and play music, and read poetry to each other. Emily writes poetry too, and it’s pretty good. It expresses her emotion whenever it shows up, whether she’s at home or locked in a castle alone with men sneaking in.
OK, that’s getting ahead of myself.
So Emily’s parents die, which is pretty sad. Radcliffe makes sure to take plenty of time so we can feel just as sad as Emily does. Then Emily’s aunt adopts her, but she’s awful, and marries this douche named Montoni who just wants the aunt’s money. He takes them away to his forest hideout, Udolpho castle, where he locks Emily up and offers her to one of his guests in exchange for clearing his, Montoni’s, debts.
But the book makes sure to gloss over that boring stuff and spend plenty of time, like 60 pages or so, on Emily feeling really sad and wandering around the castle trying to find a way out and always failing. It’s like youth, you know, where you feel trapped all the time? And she misses her boyfriend, Valancourt, who’s off gambling to try to rescue an old man from prison. And get this: the entire time Emily’s wandering around the castle, the servants are telling ghost stories and Emily keeps hearing strange noises and moving drapes and stuff. Once there’s a voice from the wall when Montoni and his friends are drinking. But don’t worry, every time it turns out there aren’t really ghosts or demons or anything. The castle’s just really spooky.
Once, when Montoni’s locked up Emily’s aunt and Emily’s trying to find her, she comes across a black veil on a wall. She pulls it back and whatever’s back there is so terrifying the narrator can’t even tell us what it is. Radcliffe has to just settle for saying it’s really bad, and reminding us of that every so often afterwards, even though Emily never sees it again. That’s how creepy it is. It’s not a dead body or an altar to Satan or anything, though, it’s a wax figure of a dead person depicted with worms crawling all over them. It’s meant to remind people of death, and it sure does. Emily never can get over that thing, and it’s so creepy you can’t either when you read it. The best part is that the book never says what it is until right at the end, so it keeps you guessing.
Emily escapes when this guy she’s never met before – who’s in love with her – breaks her out, and they run across the countryside. Then there’s a part about people we don’t know yet – this is over halfway through the novel, when we switch to brand new characters, which keeps your interest, you know, so you’re not bored following the same old people all the time. These new people move into a castle somewhere else, and everyone thinks it’s haunted. A servant willingly sleeps in the haunted room and disappears!
What’s going on, it turns out, is that some pirates are hiding their treasure in the castle, because it was abandoned for so long, and they act like ghosts to keep people away. They have to abduct the servant to keep him quiet. You know that’s a good plot hook – they still use it in Scooby Doo episodes!
Eventually Emily shows up again, and we find out she was related to the half sister Montoni might have killed in the past, but maybe not. It’s edgy, because that’s almost like incest sort of. I think.
Valancourt comes back, but Emily’s not sure he’s cool any more, since he was gambling, but they make up enough to get married, though she makes sure never to respect him as much as she did when they were complete strangers on the road, back at the beginning of the book (that’s how they meet).
I can’t recommend this book enough, guys. Just get a load of the way it’s written:
To withdraw her thoughts, however, from the subject of her misfortunes, she attempted to read, but her attention wandered from the page, and, at length, she threw aside the book, and determined to explore the adjoining chambers of the castle. Her imagination was pleased with the view of ancient grandeur, and an emotion of melancholy awe awakened all its powers, as she walked through rooms, obscure and desolate, where no footsteps had passed probably for many years, and remembered the strange history of the former possessor of the edifice. This brought to her recollection the veiled picture, which had attracted her curiosity, on the preceding night, and she resolved to examine it. As she passed through the chambers, that led to this, she found herself somewhat agitated; its connection with the late lady of the castle, and the conversation of Annette, together with the circumstance of the veil, throwing a mystery over the subject, that excited a faint degree of terror. But a terror of this nature, as it occupies and expands the mind, and elevates it to high expectation, is purely sublime, and leads us, by a kind of fascination, to seek even the object, from which we appear to shrink.
Emily passed on with faltering steps, and having paused a moment at the door, before she attempted to open it, she then hastily entered the chamber, and went towards the picture, which appeared to be enclosed in a frame of uncommon size, that hung in a dark part of the room. She paused again, and then, with a timid hand, lifted the veil; but instantly let it fall—perceiving that what it had concealed was no picture, and, before she could leave the chamber, she dropped senseless on the floor.
When she recovered her recollection, the remembrance of what she had seen had nearly deprived her of it a second time. She had scarcely strength to remove from the room, and regain her own; and, when arrived there, wanted courage to remain alone. Horror occupied her mind, and excluded, for a time, all sense of past, and dread of future misfortune: she seated herself near the casement, because from thence she heard voices, though distant, on the terrace, and might see people pass, and these, trifling as they were, were reviving circumstances. When her spirits had recovered their tone, she considered, whether she should mention what she had seen to Madame Montoni, and various and important motives urged her to do so, among which the least was the hope of the relief, which an overburdened mind finds in speaking of the subject of its interest. But she was aware of the terrible consequences, which such a communication might lead to; and, dreading the indiscretion of her aunt, at length, endeavoured to arm herself with resolution to observe a profound silence, on the subject. Montoni and Verezzi soon after passed under the casement, speaking cheerfully, and their voices revived her. Presently the Signors Bertolini and Cavigni joined the party on the terrace, and Emily, supposing that Madame Montoni was then alone, went to seek her; for the solitude of her chamber, and its proximity to that where she had received so severe a shock, again affected her spirit.