This is the quintessential gothic horror novel. No mystery month would be complete without it. I first heard of this book in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. She parodies this book in her work. A fair number of other books from this period of time also reference it. Finally Barnes & Noble came out with an edition of the book.
The heroine of the story is Emily St. Aubert. She is brought up in the country with her mother and father. It is clear that they are impoverished gentry. Madame St. Aubert has a brother and sister-in-law, Monsiuer and Madame Quesnal. Monsiuer St. Aubert has one sister Madame Cheron. Neither of the St. Auberts is on good speaking terms with their siblings.
Madame St. Aubert dies after an acute illness. Emily’s father becomes sick and they travel around Europe for his health. On the way, they meet a young man named Valencourt, who ends up becoming Emily’s stalwart lover. On their journey St. Aubert becomes powerfully affected by their proximity to a place called Le Blanc which was owned by the Marquis de Villeroi. As St. Aubert grows more ill, they stay at the convent St. Clair which is nearby. St. Aubert dies but not before having Emily promise to burn certain items he has left at home without opening or looking at them.
Emily does carry out this task but not before realizing that one of the things she is burning is of a portrait of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to herself. She begins to suspect that perhaps her father had some secret love for another woman. Emily ends up living with her aunt Madame Cheron who really isn’t quite kind to her. Madame was of no high opinion of her brother or her niece for that matter. Valencourt does come around at this point. Madame was not crazy about him at first, but once she realized he was the nephew of a “great” lady she became quite excited for the match and went through great expense to bring it about. Before the union could take place, Madame married a Signor Montoni, an Italian nobleman who put an end to Emily’s happy prospects.
Montoni drags Madame and Emily away from their home to Italy. Eventually he takes them to his ancestral home of Udolpho. Before they get there, we see that Montoni is a very evil man and did not marry Madame for love. Italy we are given to believe at this point is a rather lawless land in certain areas. There are many bandits especially in the more remote mountainous regions which is why Udolpho is built like a fortress. Once they reach the house Montoni separates the aunt and niece. Montoni’s plan becomes apparent, he wants all of Madame’s lands and possessions. He knows the way the will is written Emily is her only heir. This is what prompted him to halt the marriage. As a married woman all the property and wealth would go to Emily’s husband. Emily begins exploring the strange house and mystery after mystery abound. It’s complete with dead bodies, literal skeletons in the closet, etc. Udolpho has a secret….
Montoni is now the rightful heir of Udolpho after the death of the previous owner Laurentini who vanished one day. People suspect that Montoni had something to do with her disappearance. In fact most believe Montoni had Laurentini killed. It turns out that Montoni is a bandit and regularly goes out to pillage travellers. Madame ends up dying under Montoni’s torture. Then his focus turns to Emily to divest her of all her property.
Emily eventually escapes with the help of a fellow prisoner in Udolpho. She eventually ends up back at the convent where her father dies and discovers Laurentini as a nun dying.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!
DON’T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED!!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!
By the end of the book we discover that St. Aubert had two not one sister. The one sister who had died did so under tragic circumstances, and St. Aubert had decided that Emily was never to know that a sister had in fact existed. St. Aubert was affected by the place Le Blanc because this sister had been the Marchioness of Villeroi. Hers had been an arranged marriage; and she had loved another. She did her duty to her family and tried to be happy. It required the constant communication of her favorite sibling St. Au bert to keep her spirits up. Prior to her marriage the Marquis of Villeroi had begun a torrid relationship with Signora Laurentini of Udolpho, a hot tempered woman, during an Italian visit. The Marquis proposed to her however a visit to her ancestral home showed him the type of woman she truly was and he left though still bewitched by her. Laurentini eventually discovered that he had subsequently married someone else. Laurentini followed him to France and decided to exact revenge (hence the disappearance). The Marquis became increasing dissatisfied in his marriage; he married the Marchioness for the family connection but suspected that her heart belong to another. The Marchioness wrote of this change to her brother who grew increasingly worried. Laurentini intended to do away with herself in the Marquis presence so as to disgrace him, but upon seeing him the love she felt overcame her. She discovered that she still had power over the Marquis and used her arts to get him to commit a diabolical deed. She succeeded in wooing him away from his wife by awakening jealousy of pride on his part over his wife’s supposed infidelity. The Marquis and Laurentini administered a slow poison. When the Marchioness was on the point of death, the Marquis realized that his wife was innocent. Both partners in the heinous dead felt intense remorse. The doctor attending the Marchioness realized that she had been poisoned because soon after her death, her face turned black. As a result she was quickly buried to hide the guilt. The Marquis left his home at Le Blanc forever to wander as penitence. He spared Laurentini’s life provided that she spend the rest of her days in prayer and penance. Laurentini followed this request but the remorse and disappointed passion constantly drove her into fits of madness for the rest of her life. Her will gave a third of her jewels to the nearest surviving relative of the Machioness who was Emily.
Emily marries her Valencourt and ends up meeting new “family” along the way.
This book is rated
This book was awesome. I didn’t put all the mysteries in there. It’s long- 696 pages. But it was worth the read. I have to confess Emily’s character did annoy me at times. I wish she could have had a little more back bone. Other than that, it made my skin prickle. The author did an excellent job in her story telling. Best of all, every strange occurrence was adequately explained in the last chapters. This is definitely a book to buy!!!