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.