I fear I dont have the words to fully explain just how important, enjoyable, and breath-taking this novel is to me; The Mysteries of Udolpho is simply one of the greatest written works ever produced. While this is a Gothic novel, arguably the greatest Gothic novel ever written, it is so much more than that. Gothic denotes dark castles, spectral haunts, dastardly deeds performed by cruel, mysterious men--certainly these elements are here. However, a large portion of this novel is simply beautiful--no one I know of has ever described the simple grandeur of life and nature or waxed more poetically on the noble merits of love and honor as does Ann Radcliffe.
Emily is one of the most memorable characters in all of fiction. To be frank, I simply fell in love with her. Through her, I was able to not only see but to better appreciate life itself and the simple beauties it manifests. When she was hurt or pained, I shared her sorrow; many times, I felt compelled to jump up and somehow defend her against the monstrous injustices inflicted upon her. I admired her morality and deep commitment to honor, a commitment so deep that she sacrificed in deference to it her own deep love for Valancourt, a love so deep that it alone allowed her to withstand the horrors of Count Montoni and the castle of Udolpho. Certainly, Emily is very sensitive and overdramatic, and she does tend to faint a lot, but she is a pure angel to someone like myself who is a Victorian at heart.
I wish I could mention all of the wonderful characters and all of the scenes and events, both beautiful and horrific, to be found in these pages. These were times when I literally had to put one hand across the page to keep from jumping ahead to see what was about to happen. I do want to stress the beauty and romance of the novel because these aspects are overshadowed by the perception people have of Gothic literature. The story of Emily and Valancourt is one of the greatest love stories in literature. Future readers, please dont pick the novel up until such a time as you are truly committed to reading it; it is rather long, and this is not a novel you will want to lay aside for several days at a time. Also, the first 100 pages or so are somewhat hard to get through. Radcliffe paints a living portrait of nature in these pages, describing more details than I could ever even hope to witness. You wont encounter the Gothic horror you may be expecting until you get rather deeply into the story, so keep that in mind. Approach this novel as you would a work of art because that is exactly what it is.
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