Summerbook #16: The Mysteries of Udolpho
I've done it! I finished! That was fun, despite Emily's inability to make it across a room without leaning on every available piece of furniture for support. That girl needs a stronger spine or something.
So, Emily believes Valancourt to have gotten into some very bad habits, including heavy gambling and being a gigolo. Valancourt admits his lack of worthiness, and they're both very sad. A lot of this volume involves Emily meeting Valancourt -- by his request or accidentally -- whereupon they both get very upset and leave each other again, and Emily writes melancholy poetry. Emily is staying with her friend Blanche, and an elderly servantwoman won't stop commenting on how much Emily resembles the late Marchioness, who died tragically young. Emily, remembering her father's mysterious papers, begs for the story. (Meanwhile, back at Udolpho, Montoni is captured!)
The Marchioness was a lovely and good woman who was badly treated by her husband, and went into a mysterious decline before dying. Her rooms have been locked up ever since and Dorothee takes Emily to have a look at them.* But! Are the rooms haunted or something? A specter in the bed scares them both, and they flee. The whole staff decides the rooms must be haunted, so Ludovico says he'll spend the night. He takes food and a book, and reads an interesting story...and in the morning, he's gone.
Also, Valancourt has disappeared and was probably shot when he was mooning around the estate; somebody thought he was a robber. Wounded? Dead? Emily is worried sick. And it turns out he's been doing good deeds in secret.
Well, everybody but Emily goes on a trip to look at wild mountain scenery, but they get lost and try to take shelter in an old ruined fortress, where now shepherds and hunters sometimes stay. These hunters, however, turn out to be banditti! (Banditti must have been a deliciously scary word to the English.) They're planning to murder and rob everybody, but in the battle, the good guys win with the unexpected help of...Ludovico?? Turns out he was kidnapped by the banditti, who have been using the secret passages and caves under the chateau as storage for years, and didn't want anybody else living there, so have been 'haunting' the place. They all head off to Emily's place.
Emily, still at home, is happy to see Ludovico alive, and also finds Valancourt, who is not dead, but she still can't love him.
The nunnery sends for Emily to come back, because Sister Agnes is ill and keeps asking for her (Agnes has some mysterious mental disturbance). We discover the story of Agnes, who once owned Udolpho -- she is the mysterious lady who disappeared 20 years ago! Everybody thought Montoni murdered her, but no. She was the mistress of the former Marquis who treated his nice wife so badly, and it was she who inflamed his jealousy and encouraged him to poison his own wife. She then realized her crimes and spent the rest of her life in torment. The Marchioness was Emily's aunt, which is why her father mourned her so. That's the big mystery.
And now it turns out that Valancourt wasn't as bad as Emily thought! He did get into gambling and debtors' prison, but then he repented, and did good works of charity instead, and he was never a gigolo. So, phew, they can get back together. (Here we see a prime example of a plot device that drives my husband absolutely mad: when people don't explain things and spend all their time misunderstanding each other -- which is also what Emily's father did.) So, hooray, there are some weddings, and the abbess ties up all the loose ends by explaining a lot of things, like just what was behind the horrid black veil.
The end! Well, I must say I didn't expect Mrs. Radcliffe to finish up by just explaining everything through the abbess. Still, this is mostly a fun read, and is of course the premier example of Gothic literature. You can't pretend to know anything much about the history and development of Gothic lit if you don't know about the horrid black veil. Thanks so much to Cleo and company for this fun read-along! I feel ready for fall now!
*I had no idea how much Jane Austen was doing a send-up of this scene in Northanger Abbey. It's a direct parody.