Radcliffe, Udolpho (1794)

Page references below are to Udolpho, ed. J. Howard (Penguin Classics)


Radcliffe the greatest exponent.

Influence on poets: cf. Coleridge, "The Ancient Mariner" (1798); "Christabel" (1800); Shelley's juvenile gothic novels, Zastrozzi and St. Irvine (1810-11).

And Radcliffe the first to develop travel seriously; notably in Udolpho and Italian

Radcliffe's own travels, A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (1795).

Enormous popularity of gothic, 1790s-1800s (see graph on CD).


Born 1764, Holborn London. (see Chronology, pp. xxxiv-vi). Wedgwood circle, Bentley:

As a child Ann stayed with her uncle: Bentley, Chelsea house: the longest period appears to have been Autumn 1771 to Spring 1772 when Ann was age seven, while preparations were put in hand for the Bath showrooms that Ann's father was hired to supervise. She would also have met several figures in the literary and scientific world who were friends of Bentley, such as Mrs. Hester Lynch Piozzi, Mrs. Barbauld, Joseph Banks, Sir William Hamilton, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and Erasmus Darwin; the latter two were to produce their own treatises on education during the 1790s. Susannah Wedgwood (1765-1817), who married Dr. Robert Darwin in 1796 and was the mother of Charles Darwin.

Schools: for female accomplishments. Mrs. Thrale (later Mrs. Piozzi) writes of the female student, that "her Mother only loads her with Allurements, as a Rustic lays Bird Lime on Twigs, to decoy & catch the unwary Traveller" -- that is, a husband. Anorexic type. Cf. Emily.

Langour: Emily's melancholy on parting from Valancourt, attempts to restrain her sorrow: "efforts which diffused over the settled melancholy of her countenance an expression of tempered resignation, as a thin veil, thrown over the features of beauty, renders them more interesting by a partial concealment" (155). At Chateau-Le-Blanc later, Emily face now more interesting for "the faint expression of melancholy, that sometimes mingled with her smile" (472).


St. Aubert's to Emily, but:

Valancourt's elder brother described as "haranguing on the virtues of mildness and moderation" (112), a kind of caricature of St. Aubert's advice to Emily; serves to show in both cases how such precepts underestimate the important role of feelings, sensibility. Mm Cheron talks in precepts: eg., how "she failed not to inculcate the duties of humility and gratitude" (116)

Cheron's precepts, based as she claims on "a little plain sense" or "only common sense" (195): involve a complicity in the world of Montoni and submission to its principles. In this way "common sense" is invoked to disguise the operations of patriarchal tyranny. It is no coincidence that, while Montoni attempts to gain control over Emily's property, he talks to her in precepts: "you should learn and practise the virtues, which are indispensable to a woman -- sincerity, uniformity of conduct and obedience." (256).


See "On Sensibility" [Enfield] (1796) on CD for contemporary debate (under Gothic: General)


Emily's early sensibility described; but how St. Aubert's education chastened it. He strove "to teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings, and to look, with cool examination, upon the disappointments he sometimes threw in her way" (9)

Death of Emily's mother (22-23):

Emily, left alone on eve of threatened marriage to Morano, fears something beyond the immediate: "Her mind, long harassed by distress, now yielded to imaginary terrors; she trembled to look into the obscurity of her spacious chamber, and feared she knew not what" (211).

Sensibility as insight:

Emily's implicit judgement of Montoni on seeing him again at Mm Cheron's, having described his appearance: Emily's admiration for him "was mixed with a degree of fear she knew not exactly wherefore" (117). See also her distrust of Montoni from appearance of his eyes, etc. (149). Similar judgement of Montoni later: Emily thinks she sees "a lurking cunning" in his eyes and "the glare of malice" (164). Emily's anticipatory fears following sudden departure from Venice, ascending mountains whose gloomy images impress her; "other images, equally gloomy and equally terrible, gleamed on her imagination" (214). And note, on entry to Udolpho, "One of those instantaneous and unaccountable convictions, which sometimes conquer even strong minds, impressed her with its horror" (217).

-- and St. Aubert wrong? -- since unable ever to overcome grief at death of his sister, the poisoned Marchioness de Villerois (620).


Emily believes she sees a figure in chapel of St. Clair when visiting her father's grave for last time (88); back home hears rustling sound, turns out to be her dog (92-3): note difficulty of distinguishing important from unimportant portents. That St. Aubert had heard mysterious music at night, not explained until near end (320).

While these are explained, coincidences are not. Du Pont, French prisoner at Udolpho (421); death of St. Aubert near Chateau le Blanc, which he knows (68-9); and Emily's return there driven by storm (458). Role of Providence.

Clinical picture. Education? -- no maturing, of heroine, in the words of Macdonald (1989): Udolpho is "a novel of education in which her heroine starts out with nothing to learn, a novel of maturation in which her heroine ends up as innocent, and as infantile, as she began"

Radcliffe reproduces in disguised form experiences that properly belong to the period of childhood animism, in which there are no unexplained or random events; every strange sight or sound holds a meaning that has some felt personal significance, even though this significance may be obscure or inexplicable; just so does a Radcliffe heroine respond with hallucinatory intensity to the sights and sounds around her. The female heroines, in this and other novels, pushed back across the borders of adolescence:

Inexplicable tyranny of male figures, corresponds to the waking nightmare to which women were subjected.

Sublime, picturesque, landscape

"They must be men of very cold imaginations," said W ---- , "with whom certainty is more terrible than surmise. Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them" - Radcliffe, "On the Supernatural in Poetry," The New Monthly Magazine 16 (1826), 145-152

Social realism briefly: view of poverty of peasants (Udolpho, 34-5)

Circuit of travel: La Vallée as picturesque ideal; via Pyrenees; Mont Cenis pass; Appenines; return via Pyrenees; end at La Vallée.

-- unlike Gilpin, no critical faculty applied to picturesque; represents and extends characters' feelings

-- Response to picturesque, defines character; e.g., Montoni indifferent = his villainy

-- Gilpin on: Callophilus: "to me I must own there appears a very visible Connection between an improved Taste for Pleasure, and a Taste for Virtue" (Dialogue (1748), p. 49) -- but he later distinguishes moral pleasure in cultivated landscape from untamed picturesque

-- Valancourt's charity, improves his response to landscape (Udolpho, 53); Emily's reminder to the fallen Valancourt (473)

Picturesque imagination: St. Aubert's "transforming eye" (18); imaginative landscapes (50); sublime (43-4)

NB. All imagined on basis of travel writing. See examples of sources.

Emily's persona construed by landscape: cf. Howells analysis

Students: choose a passage of travel / landscape to analyse: what is new or different, if anything?
-- especially Vol. I, Chs 3-6; Vol. II, Chs 1, 5; Vol. IV, Ch 12.

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Document created February 10th 2003 / updated February 14th 2005