Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Review: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliff

"The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, was published in the summer of 1794 by G. G. and J. Robinson of London in 4 volumes. 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."
-Summary by Wikipedia

Review by Shiloah Baker

This book is a beautifully written tale full of mystery, intrigue, valuable lessons in character and life, with an end that satisfies all the curiosities one receives when reading it.

Emily is the protagonist whose character is worthy of all girls to emulate. She is always checking her propensity for fear and superstitions. She never feels sorry for herself despite all those she loses to death, being suffered to an imprisonment in a “haunted” castle and the selfishness of those who were around for the greater part of a year.

She loses the love of her life by choice when she finds out that his character became flawed and his addictions she knew he would have problems with throughout his life. Throughout the years I have had friends whose marriages soured for one reason or another. The ones whose marriages ended due to infidelity and mistreatment often affected me the most in a melancholy way. I spoke to my wise mother-in-law about it and she said many times people are not careful in the dating process. People think they can change people or that problems in the youth will be conquered in later years, much of the time this is not so. Emily’s wisdom and prudence is a wonderful example to impressionable girls in this day and age. She shows strength of character that is not often seen in the shallow characters of protagonists today.

Centuries after this book is written, our way of life is so utterly different from those in the 1500’s. I have always been curious as to how the relationships between servants and master operated. I especially enjoyed reading what they ate: breads and cheese, fruit with cream, etc. Considering that the story took place mostly in France and Italy it gives me an idea of the types of bread and cheese. The children and I have enjoyed this faire off and on while I read the book. Blame it on pregnancy cravings. {Smile}

The author takes us to many locations without ever making the reader feel lost. The descriptions are rich and it makes one crave the reprieve of an Italian countryside. She brings the reader with Emily to two haunted castles and yet never leaves a question unanswered by the end of the book. Despite the gloomy circumstances at times in the book, it has an extremely happy ending. It is master story-telling at its finest.

When speaking of the death of an unhappy woman who committed great sins, the following wisdom is still relevant to today:
“Her death presents to us a great and awful lesson.” Continued the abbess; “let us read it, and profit by it; let it teach us to prepare ourselves for the change, that awaits us all! You are young, and have it yet in your power to secure ‘the peace that passeth all understanding’-the peace of conscience. Preserve it in your youth, that it may comfort you in age; for vain, alas! and imperfect are the good deeds of our latter years, if those of our early life have been evil!”

Living our lives the best we can not only gives us a free and clear conscience now, but when on our death beds we will have the peace of mind knowing we lived a good life.

Several of the characters were selfish, passionate, cruel and sinful. The author clearly illustrates the unhappiness of a life lived in this manner. One lesson taught was that all passions- good or bad should be bridled.
“Remember, sister, that passions are the seeds of vices as well as of virtues, from which either may spring, accordingly as they are nurtured. Unhappy they who have never been taught the art to govern them!”

I really enjoyed listening to President Uchtdorf the other night. One of the things he mentioned that really struck me was that there is no “FREE AGENCY” there is agency. Nothing is free because it all comes with a price. There is always a consequence to every choice.

By the end of the book, you learn throughout the story that while good or bad, we all must pass through sorry and hardship, but in the end if we endure we shall triumph:

“O! useful may it be to have shewn, that, though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and that innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune!”

The Mysteries of Udolpho is a classic novel worth reading. I have shared the storyline with my children as I read and they are so excited to read it in a few years. I thought it would make a great movie, but on second thought it might appear very scary and thus giving it a rating I wouldn’t want to see. It is better that it remains a book and the ideas left to the imagination. All is explained at one time or another, but until then, enjoy the suspense and mystery!

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