The Mysteries of Udolpho

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The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry
MysteriesOfUdolpho cp.jpeg
Title page from first edition
AuthorAnn Radcliffe
GenreGothic novel
PublisherG. G. and J. Robinson
Publication date
8 May 1794
Media typePrint (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, along with Radcliffe's novel The Romance of the Forest, 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[edit]

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.

Modern editors point out that only about one-third of the novel is set in the eponymous Gothic castle,[3] and that the tone and style vary markedly between sections of the work. Radcliffe also added extensive descriptions of exotic landscapes in the Pyrenees and Apennines, and of Venice, none of which she had visited[3] and for details of which she relied on contemporary travel books, leading to the introduction of several anachronisms. 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 at Udolpho.

Plot summary[edit]

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, Montoni brings Emily and her aunt to his remote castle of Udolpho.

Emily fears to have lost Valancourt forever. Morano searches for Emily and tries to carry her off 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 would otherwise go to Emily upon his wife's death. 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.


  • Emily St. Aubert: Much of the action takes place from her point of view. Emily has a deep appreciation for the sublimity of nature, which she shares with her father. 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. Her childhood home is La Vallée. Her sensitivity leads her to dwell (often in tears) on past misfortunes and to imagine, with dread, troubles that might befall her in the future. She is given to writing verse, selections of which punctuate the novel.
  • Monsieur 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 travelling 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 (later Madame Montoni): 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 wealth and estates. He is cold and often cruel to Emily, who believes him to be a captain of banditti.
  • 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. Morano attempts to abduct Emily twice, but 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 and often gets locked in closets.
  • 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. He is the locker of closets.
  • 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.
  • Marchioness de Villeroi: A mysterious figure whose miniature Emily discovers in a secret panel in her father's closet. She was married to the Marquis de Villeroi, but becomes estranged from him and dies thanks to the intervention of Laurentini di Udolpho. She was sister to M. St. Aubert, making her Emily's aunt.
  • Signora Laurentini di Udolpho (also called Sister Agnes): A nun living in the French monastery of St. Claire. She dies in the final volume of the novel, whereupon she is revealed to be Signora Laurentini, heiress of the house of Udolpho. She estranged the Marquis de Villeroi, her first love, from his wife, after which she retired to the monastery to live in guilt. She divides her fortune between Emily and the wife of M. Bonnac.
  • The Marquis de Villeroi: Lover of Laurentini before he married the Marchioness. He leaves the Chateau-le-Blanc after her death.
  • Francis Beauveau, Count De Villefort: Heir to the mansion at Chateau-le-Blanc in Languedoc. He inherits the chateau from his friend the Marquis de Villeroi. He has two children from a previous marriage, Blanche and Henri, and is married to the Countess De Villefort.
  • Lady Blanche: A sweet young woman who has a deep appreciation for the sublime and writes poetry. She resides at Chateau-le-Blanc and befriends Emily, with whom she shares many interests.
  • Dorothée: A servant at the Chateau-le-Blanc. She is superstitious, like Annette, but less inclined to be found in a closet.
  • Monsieur Du Pont: One of Emily's suitors. He steals a miniature of Emily belonging to her mother, which he later returns. He helps Emily and her companions escape from Udolpho. He is a friend of De Villefort, who supports his suit. When Emily steadfastly rejects him, he turns his attentions to Blanche, but is thwarted again when she marries St. Foix.
  • Monsieur Quesnel: Emily's uncle. He is cold and unfeeling towards Emily until she becomes an heiress.
  • Madame Clairval: Valancourt's aunt and an acquaintance of Madame Cheron. She initially approves of the match between Valancourt and Emily, but finally decides that there are better prospects for both of them.
  • Monsieur Bonnac: An officer in the French service, around fifty years old. Emily meets him at the convent. His wife inherits the castle at Udolpho.
  • Monsieur St. Foix: Suitor of Blanche. He marries her at the end of the novel.

References in other works[edit]

  • The novel is the focus of extensive attention in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey, which satirises it.
  • 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.
  • The Castle of Udolpho is mentioned in a letter from Rebecca Sharp to Miss Sedley in William Thackeray's Vanity Fair.[4]
  • BBC Radio 4 has broadcast two adaptations of the novel, first in a 1996 two-part adaptation by Catherine Czerkawska starring Deborah Berlin as Emily and Robert Glenister,[5] and secondly in a 2016 one-hour adaptation by Hattie Naylor with Georgia Groome as Emily.[6]
  • In 2007, The Mysteries of Udolpho was published as a graphic novel in a volume of the Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics series.[7]
  • A dramatisation by Carole Diffey was published in July 2015.[citation needed]
  • In series 1 episode 12 ("Homefront") of Young Justice, the Mysteries of Udolpho was the book used to open a secret passage in the League's library. Several characters throughout the series are seen reading the book as well.
  • The second sentence in Chapter 4 of Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw reads: "Was there a 'secret' at Bly - a mystery of Udolpho or an insane, an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?"


  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. ^ a b Radcliffe, Ann, ed. Terry Castle (1966). The Mysteries of Udolpho. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Vanity Fair. New York: John Wurtele Lovell, 1881. p. 72.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Pomplun, Tom: "Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14". Eureka Productions, 2007.

External links[edit]

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