The Mysteries of Udolpho

Ann Radcliffe

The Mysteries of Udolpho is one of the most famous and popular gothic novels of the eighteenth century. The mysterious happenings in the story always have a natural and probable explanation because Radcliffe was a very rational person and did not believe in the supernatural. Radcliffe's strengths in writing were in describing scenery as well as suspense and terror.

Between the years of 1789 and 1797, Radcliffe wrote and published 5 novels. All were extremely successful. The Mysteries of Udolpho was her fourth and most well-liked. It was first published in 1794. One of the most recurring themes is the quality of sensibility in her characters.

The novel is set in Europe in the year 1584. The main character, Emily, is forced to travel through France and Italy, living in dark, scary, old castles along the mountains and the sea. She encounters a variety of terrifying scenes and characters. Her sensibility comes into play in determining how she handles these situations with composure. Although the novel is "basically a straightforward, chronological narrative, The Mysteries of Udolpho seems timeless and dreamlike, the sweeping length of the story suggesting the cinematic technique of slow-motion."

About the Author

Ann Ward was born in 1764, and married William Radcliffe in 1787. Her husband eventually became the owner and editor of The English Chronicle. Her books were incredibly popular and widely imitated. Her career seems so short because she disliked public attention so she stopped publishing her works. Plus, she and her husband enjoyed travelling around England. Some of her books include:

The Castles of Athen and Dunbane (1789)
Sicilian Romance (1791)
The Romance of the Forest (1791)
The Italian (1797)
Gaston de Blandeville (1826)
The following is a poem that is assumed to be written by Ann Radcliffe herself, and is considered the motto of her novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho :
Fate sits on these dark battlements and frowns,
And as the portal opens to receive me,
A voice in hollow murmurs through the courts
Tells of a nameless deed.
For more information on Ann Radcliffe

Radcliffe and Arcadia

Stoppard makes reference to Radcliffe's novel once in his play. He uses the classically recognized gothic novel to describe Mr. Noakes' idea of a beautiful garden. As the Lady of Sidley Park previews Noakes' sketch of the garden, she comments that the garden belongs in The Mysteries of Udolpho. On a comic note, when Lady Croom makes her claim of dissatisfaction, aligning the garden with that in a Radcliffe novel, she includes The Castle of Otranto along with The Mysteries of Udolpho. The Castle of Otranto, though, is actually written by Horace Walpole, which is quickly pointed out by Ezra Chater in the play. Finally, Mr. Chater, being guest, is scolded by Lady Croom for correcting her in her own house.

In any case, Lady Croom, when she refers to The Mysteries of Udolpho, is drawing a connection to a very dark, gloomy feel, with which she is not impressed. She demands to have the gardening of a Capability Brown style, and will not allow Noakes to play ruinous havoc upon her pride and joy in her garden.

compiled by Erin Skala and Matt Kelly


Bartlett, John. 1901. Familiar Quotations.

Bleiler, E. F., ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985. 145-151.

Magill, Frank N., ed. Masterplots, Vol. 7. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1976. 4115-4120.

Picture of the gardens at Stour

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