Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Gothic Mystery

I'm giving a conditional recommendation for The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Were you an English major in college? Have you read all of Jane Austen's novels? Have you read something of the Brontes' works other than Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights? I think anyone who can answer "yes" to at least two of these three questions will enjoy reading Udolpho.

Written in the late-1700's, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a dark, romantic mystery that was popular fiction during the Jane Austen's time. It's the book that features prominently in her novel Northanger Abbey (which means I'll have to add that to my list of books to reread).

I outlined those conditions for liking this book because I can imagine that someone who is not predisposed to like Gothic British literature of that time period might find this book hard to get through. A lot of time is devoted to describing the characters' reactions to scenery; the heroine falls down weeping a lot; the author includes sections of poetry; the narrator is omniscient, but keeps a certain distance from the characters that can have a dulling effect on suspenseful moments. These are all things that could make the book tedious to an uninterested reader.

Despite being able to see these potential negatives, I actually really enjoyed reading Udolpho. It did take me a while to get through (and I admit that I even skimmed over the poems!), but it was the kind of book where I really felt like I was entering a separate little world when I opened the cover. The really interesting thing is that this was the popular (and even considered trashy by some) novel of it's time. Filled with mysteries and paranormal occurrences, it makes me wonder if it was seen in the same light that a Stephen King or a James Patterson mystery is viewed today.
(Side note: I included these pictures because they're some of the most Gothic that I have. I took them during a nighttime walk around Charleston, SC.)

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