This is the third week of the readalong of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ by Ann Radcliffe that I am doing with Delia from Postcards from Asia. You can find the first post of this series here and the second post of this series here.
We left the second part of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ with Montoni imprisoning his wife, Emily’s aunt, in a remote part of the castle and Emily spending everyday in dread and fear. In the third part, one of the guards tells Emily that he will help her meet her aunt. But he has his own nefarious intentions and tries to get Emily out of the castle into the hands of Count Morano. Emily doesn’t realize this and goes to the remote part of the castle where the guard takes her and suddenly discovers that she has been locked into a dark room. Then she is taken outside the castle to be delivered into her captor’s hands. But before this could happen, her aunt’s maid Annette alerts Montoni and his friends and they come and drive away the new villains. This relieves Emily, but then she realizes that this is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Her imprisonment in the castle continues. Montoni gives her permission to see her aunt, and Emily discovers that her aunt’s health has declined considerably. Her aunt doesn’t survive this and dies one day. Then Montoni starts harassing Emily, asking her to sign away her aunt’s estates to him. Emily declines to do that. Montoni removes his protection on her and Montoni’s friends start stalking Emily. Emily finds it too hard to fend off these ruffians and so signs away all her aunt’s estates in return for a safe trip to France. Unfortunately, Montoni doesn’t keep his side of the agreement. Then Emily hears songs in the castle which are from her hometown Gascony and she suspects that it is that of Valancourt. She fears that Valancourt might be imprisoned in Montoni’s castle. Many things happen after this. Montoni seems to be the head of bandits who plunder nearby towns and castles. One of the owners of the nearby castles puts together a force and raids Montoni’s castle and besieges it. Montoni sends away Emily to a distant village to the care of one of his trusted men. Emily befriends this couples’ daughter Maddeleine. When the siege is over, Emily comes back. Then Emily discovers that the person who is imprisoned in the castle is not Valancourt, but another French admirer of hers called du Pont, who is the person who has written a poem admiring her in the fishing hut in Gascony. Emily, du Pont, Emily’s maid Annette and Annette’s boyfriend Ludovico hatch an escape plan and at one point escape from the castle in a couple of horses. The reach a port and get into a ship and sail for France.
At this point, Ann Radcliffe suddenly has an inspiration to create another heroine. She is Lady Blanche who is nearly the same age as Emily, who is beautiful and sensitive like her and who touches everyone around her with love and kindness like Emily does. She loves nature and writes poems on nature like Emily does (My favourite poem in volume 3 was ‘The Butter-fly to his Love’ written by Lady Blanche). She looks like Emily’s twin sister. I am hoping that towards the end of the story she will turn out to be the twin sister. Lady Blanche and her brother and parents have moved into a castle in the countryside from Paris, near the place where Emily’s father had died. One day a storm blows near the sea there and a ship is blown ashore. Blanche’s father, the Count, asks his people to help out and try to save the ship and the travelers in it and they rescue – surprise, surprise – Emily and her friends. Emily and Blanche become thick friends. Emily writes to her uncle and Valancourt and states that she has arrived back and is planning to join a convent. Valancourt comes back in search of Emily, but she discovers that he is a changed person. He also says that he is not worthy of her. Blanche’s father, the Count, also says the same thing to her and he gives supporting evidence for that. It seems Valancourt is no longer an innocent youth and has become a gambler and a man who hangs out with women of suspicious reputation. Emily is heartbroken. Valancourt wants to have a conversation with her and tell her about what has happened in his life and part 3 of the story ends on the eve of this conversation.
Too many fantastic things happen in part 3 and the story moves to different locations – from Montoni’s castle to the Italian countryside and then back to Montoni’s castle and then to the French countryside. I don’t know why Ann Radcliffe had to create another noble heroine in Lady Blanche. Maybe that will help unveil some of the suspense and tie some of the loose ends of the story later. It looked a bit artificial to me. Like some of the old movies where the hero or heroine suddenly discovers that there is someone else who looks exactly like him / her.
My favourite part of the third volume was the atmosphere which Ann Radcliffe creates throughout – the dark, scary, creepy, gothic atmosphere of the Castle of Udolpho and the labyrinthine corridors and rooms in it, in which one can get lost never to be found again, where unknown dangers lurk in every corridor and every room and where dark and deep secrets are hidden in rooms behind veils and screens. Radcliffe keeps on piling up the dark, scary, terrifying scenes one after the other that transports the reader into a medieval castle and gives the reader many a sleepless night.
I continued to keep an eye for interesting spellings of words and this is what I found in the third volume – ‘controul’ (for ‘control’), ‘enterprize’ (for ‘enterprise’), ‘secresy’ (for ‘secrecy’), ‘centinels’ (for ‘sentinels’), ‘antient’ (for ‘ancient’), ‘depictured’ (for ‘depicted’ – I love ‘depictured’, because it is a version of ‘pictured’ and seems more meaningful and rich than ‘depicted’) and ‘phrensy’ (for ‘frenzy’).
Some of my favourite passages in volume 3 were those spoken by Lady Blanche. One of them is this :
‘And have I lived in this glorious world so long,’ said she, ‘and never till now beheld such a prospect – never experienced these delights! Every peasant girl, on my father’s domain, has viewed from her infancy the face of nature; has ranged, at liberty, her romantic wilds, while I have been shut in a cloister from the view of these beautiful appearances, which were designed to enchant all eyes, and awaken all hearts. How can the poor nuns and friars feel the full fervour of devotion, if they never see the sun rise, or set? Never, till this evening, did I know what true devotion is; for, never before did I see the sun sink below the vast earth! To-morrow, for the first time in my life, I will see it rise. O who would live in Paris, to look upon black walls and dirty streets, when, in the country, they might gaze on the blue heavens, and all the green earth!’
Another one is this :
‘Who could first invent convents!’ said she, ‘and who could first persuade people to go into them? And to make religion a pretence, too where all that should inspire it, is so carefully shut out! God is best pleased with the homage of a grateful heart, and, when we view his glories, we feel most grateful. I never felt so much devotion, during the many dull years I was in the convent, as I have done in the few hours, that I have been here, where I need only look on all around me – to adore God in my inmost heart!’
This is a beautiful conversation between Blanche and her father which I liked very much :
Blanche : Did these scenes, sir, ever appear more lovely, than they do now? To me this seems hardly possible.
The Count (Blanche’s father) : They once were as delightful to me, as they are now to you; the landscape is not changed, but time has changed me; from my mind the illusion, which gave spirit to the colouring of nature, is fading fast! If you live, my dear Blanche, to re-visit this spot, at the distance of many years, you will, perhaps, remember and understand the feelings of your father.
Another of my favourite passages in this volume was about Emily trying to read. It went like this :
…Emily sought to lose the sense of her own cares, in the visionary scenes of the poet; but she had again to lament the irresistible force of circumstances over the taste and powers of the mind; and that it requires a spirit at ease to be sensible even to the abstract pleasures of pure intellect. The enthusiasm of genius, with all its pictured scenes, now appeared cold, and dim. As she mused upon the book before her, she involuntarily exclaimed, ‘Are these, indeed, the passages, that have so often given me exquisite delight? Where did the charm exist? – Was it in my mind, or in the imagination of the poet? It lived in each,’ said she, pausing. ‘But the fire of the poet is vain, if the mind of his reader is not tempered like his own, however it may be inferior to his in power.’
I can’t wait to read volume 4 now and find out what happened between Emily and Valancourt. As of now, Valancourt has gone down in my estimate and I don’t know whether Emily will forgive him for it. I also can’t wait to find out more about the secrets which have still not been revealed – how Emily is related to the lady in the mysterious portrait, what was there in the papers that Emily burnt and what did Emily see behind the veil in the Castle of Udolpho.
My questions for Delia on volume 3 of the story are :
(1) Did you guess that the mysterious admirer of Emily, who visited the fishing hut in Gascony was not Valancourt?
(2) Was the character of Lady Blanche required in the story? Doesn’t she look like an exact replica of Emily? Do you think the introduction of this new heroine was required for tying up the loose ends of the story?
(3) Does Valancourt deserve Emily’s forgiveness (irrespective of what actually happens later)?
(4) Which of the three volumes is your favourite till now, with respect to the gothic atmosphere and scary events?
You can find Delia’s review of volume 3 of the book here.