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.
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 (?)
The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
7. The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe
A Sicilian Romance, by Ann Radcliffe
9. The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole
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?