Beginning the Mysteries of Udolpho read-along

As soon as I saw Cleo’s invitation, on Classical Carousel, to dedicate a month to reading Ann Radcliffe’s famous novel, I knew I was fated to join in. After all, not only have I got two identical copies on my shelves (certainly bought with the best of intentions, but who could say when?), in classes, I’m frequently given to quoting quotes about the importance of Radcliff to later writers. It is clearly about time I stopped having to admit that I’ve no right to express my own opinions on that.

So, I have begun. My first thought? It’s an awfully big novel, arguably a worthy doorstop for breezy days. It’s certainly been doing sterling work as a paperweight.

“No! Stop this sacrilege: this procrastinating! Get to the first page, why don’t you?”

Okay, so I didn’t say all that to myself out loud, but there was an internal monologue happening, along those lines, for around two days before I settled to the task. Which suggests the book is a hard read.

It’s not. There is, perhaps, more description than the writing I normally aim for, but I like a reading challenge, and variety. So I took another day to work through the first two pages, acclimatizing myself to the period and the locality.

On the pleasant banks of the Garonne, in the province of Gascony, stood, in the year 1584, the chateau of Monsieur St Aubert. From its windows were seen the pastoral landscapes of Guienne and Gascony, stretching along the river, gay with luxuriant woods and vines, and a plantation of olives.

How idyllic it is. What a joy to travel to such a place at any time, but especially now, when ‘real’ travel is a fantasy.

The first paragraph is a geographical orientation. Nowadays, we might think of it as a camera, panning round. To the south are the Pyrenees, described in rugged detail, to the north and east, are plains, while in the west is the Bay of Biscay.

Only then do we move in closer, joining M. St Aubert, his wife, and his daughter. We see the environment through their movements, and thoughts. Their lives happen at a gentle pace, and that’s how the reading feels: I’m drawn on, and into the layers of landscape.

There are momentous incidents, and the novel (the story) is driving forwards, but at walking pace (might I say isolation-pace?), and so far, with modesty and restraint. I’m only 50 pages in, and have yet to experience any sensation stronger than mild curiosity. No doubt I’m being lulled into a false sense of security, but actually, I wouldn’t mind if my reading continued in this gentle vein of wandering along the thyme, balm, lavender and basil scented pathways.

So far, this is an undemanding novel. I’m engaged by the characters, and the journey they’ve now embarked on. I know that they’ll be there, readily accessible and familiar, even if I miss reading of them for a day. Which I have, several times.

The challenge will be, whether I can reach page 632 before end of the month. It all depends, I imagine, on whether I become thrilled (which I think is a suitably dated expression) by developments or anticipation. Though I’m hoping for some inappropriate chuckling too.

39 thoughts on “Beginning the Mysteries of Udolpho read-along

  1. A book I’ve not come across but you’re certainly selling it well Cath. I suspect 632 pages would be too much for my short attention span. Well done for taking on the challenge and keep us posted. Then I can join in vicariously 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ruth. 632 pages of smallish font is daunting, but I’m going to be taking some time out for easier reads along the way, too – hence my doubts about finishing this by the end of the month.


  2. I don’t quite know why Radcliffe bothers me so, but I can’t quite click with how she structures thought around her images and, at times, even concepts. The way she wields language seems to be at once festooned and effusive, and rote and mechanical, likely due to how she pairs her dense prolixity and her short, successive phrases. But I understand she’s more of a narrator and less of a stylist, which is entirely more important for some.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Her style is dated, but I’m adjusting, so far. I’m hoping the density doesn’t increase as the story develops. On the other hand, maybe I’ll find ways to enjoy that, in my own fashion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very entertaining Cath! You encourage us all to give some books a go, that we would normally reject. The length itself doesn’t bother me as much as my interest being held. Dated or not, books do thrill (or not) don’t they!

    Usually, I like to read a book’s opening paragraph or two before I buy but I don’t know how that will go this week as Waterstones are saying that if a book has been touched it will need to be quarantined for 72 hours afterwards.

    Enjoy delving into The Mysteries of Udolpho. I look forward to hearing how it all goes! Blessings always, Deborah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Deborah, I’m so pleased to have tempted you, at this early stage.

      I’ve heard about that Waterstone’s policy. They must have a lot of storage space, and I wonder how they’ll be tracking the 72 hours… I’m glad I don’t have to organise that.

      Blessings to you, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds lovely to me. I wouldn’t mind wandering along the thyme, balm, lavender and basil scented pathways. As a slow reader I’d probably enjoy this mise en scène.

    For now I’m catching up on what I’ve ignored on my shelf, books given to me. Presently a slim one, ‘The German Tradition’ by Jack Herbert, three lectures published by the Temenos Academy. The lectures explore uniting the opposites re: Goethe, Jung and Rilke, and I’m having fun bettering, in my mind, the chunky translations of some poems therein, apart from gaining new insights into the lives of these influential poets and visionaries.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, the countryside is clearly idyllic. I can’t help thinking I’m experiencing a lull, before the darkness falls.

      Your reading sounds most impressive. I hope you’ll be posting about some of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I purchased my copy of this a long time ago, prompted by the numerous references to it in Northanger Abbey. I did eventually get around to reading it and I finished it…eventually. I have to confess that I skipped bits of description and most of the poetry. There’s lots of sobbing and not much wit, but what lies behind the black veil?? Good luck, Cath!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Chris. I’m anticipating some unintentional humour, regarding the sobbing, though I’m trying to read seriously, too. I’m hoping it’s not going to be too much about endurance.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I had to smother the smile when I saw this. I confess to having one of my heroes, one of lesser good tempered heroes…all right one with no fuse whatsoever attempt to read this book. Sufficient to say his patience was such he never got beyond the garden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m hoping for more than a few smiles, as I work through this one. Without the encouragement of a ‘read-along’ I doubt I’d get beyond that garden either.
      Which hero was that, I wonder?

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was Kendall Winterbourne, the Earl of Stillmore who the heroine’s nabbing sidekick liked to call Kenny. Anyway Udolpho was never going to be his kind of book. Page three where it was kind of uncomfortably reminiscent of his own past especially, never mind what he thought of the hair-tearing tedious description,,,,

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Good luck! I liked the gothic bits but found the travel writing a bit of a slog – apparently that’s what they really liked back then. I also read The Italian which I quite liked, but think Udolpho is better.


  8. I’m glad that I withstood the temptation to join in with this one. I do want to read it at some point but I doubt that I could do it to a fixed end date. I’d probably enjoy it more as I enjoy Dickens: little and often!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m falling behind too, so don’t worry. I’m hoping a week’s vacation in July will catch me up.

    I loved the beginning with its idyllic peacefulness. It’s setting us up for a contrast of tragedy which will be even more shocking because of that contrast. I can’t wait! And I so enjoyed your post and thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Cleo, it was good to be able to gather my thoughts and reflect on my progress. It’s a relief to find I’m not alone in lagging on your timetable.


  10. HA! There will always be that hefty book whose very physical length is a turn-off. I felt that way about Count of Monte Cristo for a long time before I finally read it. I’m not sure I could do the “walking pace” into a story, as you call it, for 50 pages. I’m sure you could say many books have done that–heck, Howl’s Moving Castle opens with a few chapters of exposition to help us get a feel for the context of the protagonist’s life. There’s *something* going on, but you’re not really in anything serious until the Witch of the Waste shows up. You do have me pondering now, though, about pacing, and how much can or can’t happen in opening chapters in order to keep a reader engaged enough to continue. A thoughtful, moving post indeed, Cath. xxxx Hmmm….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jean. That question of pacing fascinates me, too. Reading tastes seem to be shifting so fast and yet many of the most popular novelists still seem to follow traditional styles of telling. I’ve not read Howl’s Moving Castle, though I did see the film, a couple of years ago. My memory is that it, too, took a while to get started, but there was a great deal of charm in the scenery.
      Could be that there’s a post to be written about this…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mayhaps! 🙂 And yes, taste can certainly influence one’s reading experience. I have a friend who adores reading Evelyn Waugh, while I….no. Just, no. I can’t handle Brideshead and such. Just nope.
        I think genres carry some degree of expectations regarding pacing, too. Horror feels like a good measurement of this. Take the film HALLOWEEN–not much really happens on screen until over the halfway point of the film, but the *promise* of something happening is very prevalent from the get-go. It’s all about the set-up and pay-off again, isn’t it?

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