January 9, 2014

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (Review)

Title: The Mysteries of Udolpho
Author: Ann Radcliffe
First published: 1794
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

20 pages into this book I already regretted putting it on my Classics Club list. OK, it's an iconic Gothic novel, which has inspired a lot of followers since it was written, but it's very, very tiresome to read. Seriously, I was wondering how come Catherine Morland found it so exciting and how could Henry Tilney have read it in three days? It took me three months, on and off.

Let's be a little more organised than usual today and make a bullet list of things that I didn't particularly enjoy in the novel.

  • The first problem of the book is, of course, the abundance of cumbersome poetry. The reader is lucky if there are only epigraphs from Milton or Shakespeare, as they are quite bearable, but sometimes it's real crap, which I can't even make sense of. Moreover, some of the heroes write "their own" poetry from time to time, which is even more horrible. Sorry, Mrs. Radcliffe, you are no Shakespeare.
  • Second thing that bothered me was the descriptions of nature. They are everywhere and occupy nearly one third of the book, or so it seems. Imagine a heroine being led through the dark forest by a couple of ruffians at night and then just stopping to admire the stars. Yep, that's what happens here.
  • It's slow! It's so slow that the castle of Udolpho is first mentioned only on page 188 out of 650. Argh!
  • All the FEELINGS! The main heroine is particularly sensitive and is always fainting, blushing, crying, trying to find words, shocked, etc. I know, I know those were the times when it was considered desirable, but really?
  • All the characters are either unreasonably evil or are saints. The only well-developed character in the book is Annette, Emily's maid, who is generally good, but talkative, shallow and superstitious. Her voice is the only one that is different from others.

Maybe for its time it was a super exciting novel, and there are some twists of the plot that liven it up a bit, but for a modern reader, even the one familiar with some old classics, it's a bit too much

In my book:
The only reason to read it is to get acquainted with the source of the genre. If you are not famous for your patience, skip it!


15 comments:

  1. I remember it took me ages to slodge through that book. (Slodge is not actually a word, but that's what it felt like.) I'm pretty sure Catherine Tilney liked it because there was nothing else to do...

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    1. Slodge sounds suitable. Well, I guess they didn't have that many books at that time and even less bearable ones, so this might have been a good choice...

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  2. I think 'iconic Gothic novel' and 'tiresome' most often go hand in hand, but that's just me. I just found this book at the library and was scanning for review. Yours makes me wish I'd picked up something else! Many books I like have characters writing their 'own poetry' (read: Possession) but it's very difficult to make that interesting, don't you?

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    1. Well, the author has to be at least passably good at it, even if his characters aren't, otherwise it just spoils everything :)

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  3. When it takes me three month to read a book not the size of a tome, it's usually a sign that it's not a very good book for me... Based on your review I doubt I would be picking this one up any time soon. I'm also especially touchy to the subject of characters writing their own poetry, it can be reaaallly bad sometimes :)

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    1. Yes, I haven't expected it to take so much time. 650 pages is nowhere near scary. But those are the longest 650 pages I've read for some time :)

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  4. Okay. Definitely skipping this one but I added The Shore to my Secret Santa Wishlist. :)

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    1. I feel good about saving you from this trial :) Bondarev is so much better!

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  5. I could not STAND this book. I put it on my Classics Club as well, and The Italian. Fortunately I've now read them - a total trial!

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    1. Ow... Is Italian as bad? I was thinking about putting it on my next Classics Club list, but now I'm discouraged...

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    2. I would possibly plan on reading it, but *not* put it on a list you feel you must complete, though, that said, it is "one of those books". I don't know... I just hate Radcliffe! But there's a lot of bloggers I love out there who disagree with me! :)

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  6. I read this one overnight for the 24 hour readathon and loved it. I'm an odd duck. ;-)

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    1. Seriously??? O_o You may be my new hero :)

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  7. Haha! A lot of people feel this way about this book. I haven't been brave enough to try it yet.

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    1. I also know a score :) Well, maybe being a coward pays off for once? :))

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