Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radclifffe (III)

A read-along. Part III/Volume III

This is the third week of the read-along I am doing with Vishy and we discuss the third volume in this four volume book.

Some of the mysteries that were building up in the previous volumes have been revealed and new mysteries have been introduced. After finding out who the voice singing in the night belonged to – it was Monsieur Du Pont, an ardent admirer of Emily, who was Montoni’s prisoner – and after the death of her aunt, Emily escapes from the castle of Udolpho and manages to embark on a ship and return to France. Du Pont, and servants Annette and Ludovico go with her and the gloomy castle is left behind.

In a separate story, we get to find out more about another castle, one which Emily and her father passed by on their travels. This castle was now inhabited by the Count of Villefort and his family, after his cousin, the Marquis de Villeroi had died. There’s talk of ghosts (again) that haunt the rooms the Marchioness died in, and the old housekeeper, Dorothee, hasn’t set foot in there since the death of her mistress, many years ago.

The two stories come together when the count and his men save Emily and her companions from a terrible storm which destroyed the ship they were traveling on. There’s a monastery close to the castle and that’s where Emily goes from time to time, coming back to visit the count’s family.
It seems the mention of a ghost and strange music in the middle of the night are two recurrent ideas that seem to follow Emily to this new castle. She finds out who the woman in the miniature portrait is (the one she saw her father weep over at the beginning of the book) but she’s not aware of the connection to her own family yet.

Valancourt finally appears in this part of the story. The count mentions to Emily the rumours he has heard from Paris, that her beloved has been in prison over debts unpaid and his character has changed since she’s last seen him, all for the worst. This is made even worse by Du Pont’s insisting that Emily accept his love – something she cannot do. The separated lovers do meet, eventually, but with typical attention to “proper etiquette”, Emily is not ready to accept Valancourt’s apologies and being the good girl that she is, prefers to suffer in silence and go live in the nearby convent of St. Clair instead of trying to find out exactly what he had done so terrible during her absence. Volume III ends with plans for a new meeting between the two, there’s much anguish, indecision and dread as to the outcome. Will they be together in the end, will Emily forgive Valancourt for whatever wrong he had done?

This part of the book has lost much of that gloomy atmosphere that was so dominant in the previous volume. There is a new castle with its own set of mysteries but there is no threat here – the conflict is more emotional and more connected to Emily rather than an outside threat. The story had shifted into a new direction, focusing now on the romance between Emily and Valancourt and the obstacles dividing them, as well as on the mystery surrounding the death of the Marchioness. Volume IV, the last, will bring about closure, but that’s to be discussed next weekend, as all the mysteries come together and old secrets are finally revealed.

You can find Vishy’s review here

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Christmas in August or Books, Books and more Books

Last Saturday I went to a book sale, as a result of an email from a bibliophile friend. I was so excited to go and have a look around and at the end of my shopping spree I came out with 10 books and the biggest, happiest grin on my face. Who says Christmas comes only once a year?
I got the books in the picture for about 34 US $ and that’s a pretty good deal considering most of the books I buy are at least 10 $ each.
As for choosing the books, here’s how it went:

NEVERWHERE – Neil Gaiman
Aaa, there you are, another Gaiman novel. Hopefully I will like it better than American Gods. I’m a huge fan of his short stories; I can’t say the same about his novels, but then I’ve only read one so that hardly counts. Ok, let’s give this a try since I’ve always wanted to read more of his books.

This does sound intriguing, I must have read a review somewhere on a blog and made a mental note to read it. Let’s do that.

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE – Virginia Woolf
I really enjoyed Mrs Dalloway so it’s about time to expand my horizons and go for another one of Virginia Woolf’s books.

The Scarlet Letter was an amazing book and that movie with Gary Oldman and Demi Moore wasn’t too bad either, and didn’t he write a vampire story I recently read somewhere? It turns out his son, Julian Hawthorne did, and the story is in this huge awesome book.

There are two reasons why I chose this book: the first being that I’ve read Emma a few years ago and didn’t like it all that much so I hoped this one would make me change my mind about Austen, and the second is closely connected to the read-along I am doing now. It seems The Mysteries of Udolpho is mentioned in this book so I wanted to know how and why.

Apart from a beautiful cover, the words in the title painted a vivid picture in my mind so I wanted to know what this book was about. Also, I was curious to read another novel by an Indian author because I thought The Alchemy of Desire by Tarun J. Tejpal was a beautifully written book and wanted to compare the styles.

Vampires, witches, werewolves, bingo! This collection of short stories was waiting just for me!

THE CORAL THIEF – Rebecca Stott
I just like the title and the action takes place in 1815, France. I love books from the 1800’s so I couldn’t let this one just sit there lonely on the shelf.

Reading the blurb at the back reminded me of a movie called Pan’s Labyrinth (original title: El laberinto del fauno) which I loved. Fantasy as a means to escape the real world. Sounds right up my alley.

THE PALE KING – David Foster Wallace
This is not a book I would have normally chosen on my own but my bibliophile friend warmly recommended it and so I thought why not, sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone.

How do you buy books? Do you go with a list (like my friend did) or just go with the flow and pick whatever catches your eye (like I did)? Have you read any of these books?

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The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radclifffe (II)

A read-along. Part II/Volume II

On the second week of this read-along I am doing with Vishy, we review and discuss Volume II in the Mysteries of Udolpho.

In this next part of the story, the gaiety and splendors of Italy replace the French countryside and the group of travelers, Emily, her aunt and Montoni, set up residence in one of the beautiful houses in Venice. By now Montoni had started to show his true character – he is distant and ignores his wife for the most part and Emily’s aunt begins to see what kind of man she had married. Her hopes of being a wealthy lady in Italy begin to fade, as Montoni gambles away his money along with the part of wife’s fortune that came to him after marriage.
Emily is enchanted by this new setting and for a while manages to give herself to this new experience of visiting a foreign country. Venice is splendid: the carnival is in full swing, the people are happy and charming, the costumes are gorgeous and the music beautiful.

“The first object that attracted her notice was a group of dancers on the terrace below, led by a guitar, and some other instruments. The girl, who struck the guitar, and another, who flourished a tambourine, passed on in a dancing step, and with a light grace and gaiety of heart, that would have subdued the goddess of spleen in her worst humour. After these came a group of fantastic figures, some dressed as gondolieri, others as minstrels, while others seemed to defy all description.”

Emily often thinks of Valancourt, but soon enough count Morano, one of Montoni’s friends, becomes her suitor and before she knows what’s happening, she is supposed to get ready for marriage. Her aunt and Montoni do everything in their power to convince her to accept the marriage, going as far as to prepare for the wedding. The morning the wedding was supposed to take place the whole house is awakened and the servants prepare to leave in a hurry for the castle of Udolpho, where Montoni intends to take his wife and niece.

Finally, I thought, we have arrived at the mysterious castle and sure enough, there is one mystery after another. There are rumors of an apparition walking in the woods, a love that was not returned and of murder that happened many years ago. There are strange sounds, secret passages, and a general feeling of despair and gloominess pervades the soul of Emily who spends her days crying and thinking of her beloved Valancourt. Strange music is heard at night, strange men come and go, staying at the castle for long discussions into the night with Montoni who seemed to be none other than a captain of a group of banditi who raid the area, coming to the castle with the spoils of their robberies. The castle is old and so large that not all of the rooms are fit for setting up residence. It’s a cold and gloomy place, and Emily gets to sleep in a chamber which leads to a room where a mysterious portrait hangs on a wall, covered with a black veil. Annette, one of the servants, tells Emily the story of the lady of the castle and how it is believed Montoni has had a part to play in her death. I found Annette an entertaining character – her constant chatter and funny outbursts helped dispel for a while the oppressive darkness of the story. She’s not the brightest spark but she has a good heart and she really cares about Emily and her aunt.

By now Montoni had abandoned all pretense at civility and decorum and had tried to force his wife to sign over her last part of the fortune in the form of some estates in France who were supposed to go to Emily after her death. He confines her to a cold and comfortless part of the castle and forbids her any visitors. Emily manages to find out where her aunt is being kept a prisoner and one of the guards in the castle offers to take her to see her. Is it a trap, or will she find her aunt there? Is her aunt dead and is Montoni trying to murder her as well in order to get his hands on her aunt’s last bit of fortune? I feared for Emily’s aunt. Her death wouldn’t be a surprise, and then there will be only Emily left to be disposed of.


It is clear by now that Montoni is the villain, Emily is the personification of strength and virtue and madame Cheron, her aunt, just a selfish woman whose ambitions have been shattered when she thought she would marry into money and live in splendor in a new country. Her marriage with Montoni is but a reminder of the society of that time where wealth was the most important thing (and sometimes the only thing) a marriage was based on.

I was intrigued by Montoni and remembered another villain – count Fosco in “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins, both Italians, ruthless and manipulative in their own way, and couldn’t help but wonder if Collins got the inspiration for his bad guy from Ann Radcliffe’s story. I did a little research and discovered that Collins was born a year after Ann Radcliffe’s death and “The Woman in White” and “The Mysteries of Udolpho” were published 66 years apart. That doesn’t answer my question but then sometimes is just fun to discover how things are connected (or not).
The two villains belong to different species of evil. While Fosco is jovial by nature, capable of such intelligence that allows him to manipulate people in an almost effortless way, Montoni is moody, contemptuous, cold and capable of violence in order to get what he wants. After Emily, he is the living character I found most interesting in the story so far. Of course, the mystery in the castle of Udolpho has yet to be revealed. How did he came to be in possession of the castle, what happens to madame Cheron and will Emily ever escape to France, are questions whose answers are yet to come.

When describing the castle, Radcliffe manages to convey pure dread. A cold, dark place, with plenty of mystery and very little light (imagine if you had to wait in near darkness for a servant to come up with a candle – why didn’t they just leave a nice supply in every inhabited room, I wonder), its gloomy atmosphere would be enough to drive anyone mad, especially someone as vulnerable as Emily. It feels like a prison, a very big one but a prison nevertheless.

On the subject of the language in the book, I found the use of “casement” instead of plain “window”, as seen in this passage:

“At length, she left the casement, but her steps faltered, as she approached the bed, and she stopped and looked round. The single lamp, that burned in her spacious chamber, was expiring; For a moment, she shrunk from the darkness beyond; and then, ashamed of the weakness, which, however, she could not wholly conquer, went forward to the bed, where her mind did not soon know the soothings of sleep. She still mused on the late occurrence, and looked with anxiety to the next night, when, at the same hour, she determined to watch whether the music returned. “If those sounds were human”, said she, “I shall probably hear them again”.

And now, the questions for Vishy:

1. What is happening with Valancourt? Is the trip to Paris meant to be his downfall or will he be strong enough to resist temptation?
2. Any thoughts on the mysterious voice that sings in the night?
3. Is Emily’s aunt being punished for her arrogance?
4. Do you think that in this chapter the book continues to follow the clear distinction between good and bad and do the stereotypes applied to the characters make the story any less interesting?
5. What character do you like best so far and why?

You can read Vishy’s review of Volume II here.
Volume III is going to be reviewed next weekend.

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The Lucky Seven Challenge

Author Andrew Blackman has tagged me for this meme and since I’ve discovered that these little writing exercises can be quite fun, I decided not to pass this one. The rules are simple: go to page 7, line 7 of my work-in-progress novel (that sounds like such a big word) and post the following 7 lines of prose.

The story these lines belongs to was started last year and when it began I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a short story or a novel. The words kept coming and it was wonderful to see the story take shape. I knew how I wanted it to start and I could see then end (sort of). It was the part in the middle, the story itself, that gave me a lot of trouble and in the end I left it aside until now. The story is about a very old tree, a legend, and the people in a village who are connected to it in ways they don’t fully understand yet. But soon they will.

Hazel’s house was not far. Like all the other houses in the village, it was made of heavy, sturdy wood, with two windows at the front and a rocking chair on the porch. A black dog sat near the chair, and as soon as she reached the gate, its head was up. She crossed the small gate which screeched and she was once again remembering she was supposed to oil the hinges but had forgotten. Somehow she always forgot. Maybe it was one of the things that came with age, forgetfulness, although some things she wished she could forget but couldn’t. Like that day when he went away and said he would come back but never did.

The last rule of the meme is to tag 7 other writers but since I only know 3 people who are actually working on a novel and blog, I’m going to bend the rules a little and leave the list open so anyone can participate. Just make sure you include a link in your comment so I can go and read your post. Here are the people whose work I would really love to get a glimpse of:

Charlie Louie
Lauren Waters

Edit: I’ve decided to add to that list until it goes up to the required number 7.

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The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radclifffe (I)

A read-along. Part I/Volume I

A while back, after reading The Moonstone (or was it The Woman in White?) by Wilkie Collins I discovered a list of ten Victorian novels on its back cover and decided to read all ten of them. Haunted castles, beautiful heroines, courageous heroes and villainous relatives, suspense and murder, mystery and love, I can never have enough of them. (I have a sneaky suspicion I’ve used a similar phrase before.) This is the list and the crossed titles are the ones read so far.

1. Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
2. Paul Clifford, by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
3. Jack Sheppard, by William Harrison Ainsworth
4. The String of Pearls, by Anonymous (?)
5. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
6. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
7. The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe
8. A Sicilian Romance, by Ann Radcliffe
9. The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole
10. The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis

Vishy is joining me again for our second read-along and this time, to make it more interesting (that means spoilers will be present), we decided to come up with a list of questions (5 or 10 or any number in between) to ask each other in the hope of tackling more specific rather than general issues of the novel. The book is divided into 4 Volumes and this weekend we’ll talk about Volume 1.

This is the second book by Ann Radcliffe that I’m reading and is a whooping 875 pages long and that’s a BIG book with a rather small print, which is not a great combination, but since this was the only edition I could find – and it took me a while to find it! – I shouldn’t complain.

Volume I opens with beautiful descriptions of nature as seen in the year 1584 in Gascony, France, where the family of Monsieur St Aubert lives in a chateau surrounded by idyllic grounds.
Monsieur St Aubert, his wife, and daughter Emily spend their days in a splendid solitude in the middle of the countryside. They walk, go for picnics, read and sing and generally enjoy a tranquil life. Theirs is a perfect little family and Emily is as happy, obedient and beautiful a daughter as anyone would wish to have. Following the death of Madame St Aubert, Emily and her father set on a journey in the course of which they get acquainted with a Mr. Valancourt, a young man “who’s never been to Paris” and who falls in love with Emily. During their journey, Emily’s father dies, not before entrusting her to go to a secret place in his study and burn the papers she finds there, without reading them. This Emily tries to do, not before she gets a glimpse of the writing and she also finds a miniature portrait of an unknown beautiful woman she remembers seeing her father weep over not long before his death.

Following the death of her father, Emily goes to live with Madame Cheron, his father’s sister, a shallow, capricious woman who sees her niece as an obligation left her by her deceased brother and only thinks of ways of using her to better her position in society. That is why she first rejects, then accepts Valancourt when he asks for permission to see Emily – she even consents to their marriage only to change her mind later when she herself gets married to Montoni, an Italian aristocrat, moody and with a suspicious past. To be honest, I thought they made a perfect match. The alliance, however, doesn’t benefit Emily in any way, as she is forced to leave her home and follow her aunt and her new husband to Italy.

Volume 1 ends with the separation of the lovers, tears flow, promises are made and melancholy and despair give way to happiness and wedding plans.

I confess being somewhat impatient with so many descriptive passages which even though they serve the purpose of introducing the reader to the time and space of the age the action takes place, it was at times too much. But then I’m not overly fond of lengthy descriptions in any book. For this reason, I went through Volume 1 at full speed, looking for mystery and why not, maybe a ghost or two. One thing I particularly liked was the poetry, especially the verses at the beginning of each chapter, like this one:

“I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul.”

(Note to self: get reacquainted with Shakespeare’s work. It’s been too long.)

I found the mystery but not the ghosts (yet!) and I’ve also put together a few questions for Vishy, for our little discussion.

1. How do you feel about the language, do thither, thou and similar words add to the beauty of the narrative or are they annoying words that give you a headache?

2. In Chapter III, in the following lines:
‘O how canst thou renounce the boundless store
Of charms which nature to her vot’ry yields!
, what do you think vot’ry means?

3. Who is the mysterious woman in the miniature portrait that St Aubert cries over?

4. Who is the author of the verses Emily found in the fishing house, the musician playing the lute and the one who took the bracelet? Are they even the same person?

5. Should Emily have accepted Valancourt’s idea of running away to get married?

You can read Vishy’s review here.

Until next weekend, when we’ll talk about Volume II in which things start to get interesting. And I leave you, dear visitor, with a question: do you like Gothic stories or does the idea of ghosts and haunted castles makes you move along to the next book in a hurry?

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