Ann Radcliffe, 1794
Written in the 18th century but set over 200 years earlier in the 16th, this gothic romance feels like an Arthurian fairy tale. I wouldn’t have been surprised to encounter banners and pennants streaming from medieval castles.
The Mysteries of Udolpho is the story of Emily St. Aubert and her classic gothic journey, both literal (it seemed like half of the story took place in a carriage) and figurative. All the gothic elements are present: the heroine is good and beautiful, the man she loves is good and beautiful, the landscape is rugged and beautiful, the castle and its villain are menacing and not beautiful.
Reviews on Goodreads pan this work for its repetitive, scripted style; they don’t take into account the context of its genre and time. Radcliffe knew how to set a mood, and she was popular- so popular that this book plays a signifigant role in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. My review awards high marks for the world she created; rating for plot and character rated average as neither element was particularly original.
I’m nothing if not an escapist reader, and I have been known to jump into any part of this story if I need to get out of the 21st century for a while. I listened to Librivox’s free, volunteer-read audiobook; you can read more about the book when you click on the link. Librivox has several of Radcliffe’s other works available as well.