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Literature / The Mysteries of Udolpho

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A late eighteenth century Gothic Novel by Ann Radcliffe. The young heroine Emily St. Aubert's mother and father die, leaving her in possession of a mysterious family secret. After their death, she is left in the care of her gold-digging aunt Madame Cheron, who marries the rich, malevolent Magnificent Bastard Count Montoni, but, when Emily discovers that Count Montoni is not only a murderer but the leader of an entire bandit army, his castle begins to take on a sinister, almost supernatural presence. Emily spends much of the book panicking and waiting for her fiancé Valancourt to rescue her. In true Gothic romance fashion, duels, battles, and mysterious images and sounds out of nowhere abound.

While much parodied and lambasted for its extravagant, overdramatic writing style (see Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey), Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the seminal works of Gothic literature and is the basis for nearly all Gothic fiction written afterwards.

Tropes featured in Mysteries of Udolpho include:

  • The Aloner: Emily for much/most of the book.
  • Anti-Climax: Seven hundred pages of buildup about what could be behind that sinister Black Veil, and it turns out to be a figure of painted wax, placed as a memento mori to keep a past lord of the house humble. Surely that was a let-down even for innocent young ladies of Regency England.
  • Axe-Crazy: Montoni. Good God, Montoni.
  • Badass Army: Count Montoni's mercenary army.
  • Beta Couple: Annette and Ludovico
  • Book Worm: Emily and her father.
  • Cultured Warrior: Valancourt, Morano and Montoni. Radcliffe loves this trope.
  • Deus ex Machina: EVERYWHERE.
  • Elite Mooks: Montoni's higher-ranking bandits.
  • Faint in Shock:
    • Emily faints no fewer than ten times throughout the story from either grief, fear, anxiety, or sudden joy. That is a lot of times even by archetypal Gothic novel heroine standards.
      1. Emily faints inside a carriage from anxiety as she hears the sounds of Valancourt, whom she is fond of, getting injured in a gunfight right outside of the carriage.
      2. Upon her father telling her that he is about to give her his requests and advice as a dying parent, Emily suddenly, and finally, realizes that her father is actually going to die soon, and faints before he can actually go on to say anything more.
      3. Saying her last goodbyes to her father's coffin all on her own, Emily is overcome with grief and lies undiscovered in a dead faint for ages on the floor next to the coffin.
      4. Upon lifting the dreaded Black Veil in Castle Udolpho and seeing the terrifying wax figure behind it, Emily drops down senseless. She goes out so deep that when she eventually wakes up, she doesn't remember a thing, and when she does recall a few seconds later what happened, re-experiencing seeing the wax figure from memory almost makes her pass out a second time before she can even stand back up from the floor.
      5. When Montoni and his men barge into the room that Emily and her aunt are trapped in, and Montoni gives orders to take Emily's aunt and lock her away, Emily faints from fear on the spot. Everyone leaves her alone and has gone by the time she wakes up, and she once again takes quite a while to remember what even happened.
      6. After lifting a curtain and seeing a ghastly, deformed, wounded human corpse behind it, Emily's out like a light instantly. This sighting makes her go Heroic BSoD for hours even after waking up.
      7. Being led to believe that one of the captives in Montoni's dungeon is her beloved Valancourt, she goes for a visit, hopeful for a reunion. Her hopes—and consciousness—are gone as soon as this prisoner turns out to be a random stranger.
      8. Learning of Valancourt's alleged misdeeds (gambling, cheating, getting himself into prison twice) via a conversation with Count de Villefort sends Emily right into blissful oblivion.
      9. When Annette tells Emily that a man that may have been Valancourt got shot by a gun recently and possibly killed, Emily is out cold before Annette can finish the story.
      10. When Emily and Theresa, both believing Valancourt to be killed, are mourning him and remembering him fondly, Valancourt suddenly enters the room, alive and well. Emily takes one look at him and is limp and dead straight away.
      11. Emily's final faint in the novel comes when Valancourt makes an unexpected visit to her on a night out.
    • For most of these faints, the prose frequently emphasizes how deeply and thoroughly unconscious she is and how long it takes for her to wake up every time despite people's best efforts to revive her. And these are only just the times her emotions are strong enough to cause complete and total loss of consciousness—she also comes close to passing out almost as many times.
    • Annette, Blanche, and a few other characters also contribute to the total count with one faint from each at various points of the novel, but no one comes anywhere close to Emily.
  • Gold Digger: Madame Cheron. It doesn't work out too well.
  • Heroic Wannabe: Morano.
  • I Lied: Montoni after he extorts Emily's property away from her.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Emily
  • The Ingenue: Emily again.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Ludovico disappears from one.
  • Love at First Sight: Valencourt falls in love with Emily pretty much as soon as he meets her.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Emily is far more mature and sensible than the more emotion driven, potentially unstable Valencourt.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: You guessed it... Montoni
  • Mysterious Protector: Valancourt and Morano. Granted the first never actually seems to do much of anything...
  • Naïve Newcomer: Emily, and Cheron
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Valancourt
  • Parental Abandonment: Both of Emily's parents die relatively early in the story, leaving her in the hands of her Gold Digger aunt and Evil Uncle.
  • Pride Before a Fall: Count Montoni
  • Private Military Contractors: Montoni's bandits double as mercenaries
  • Rich Bitch: Madame Cheron and the Countess.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Started the trend of having the supernatural events in Gothic novels eventually turn out to have rational explanations, especially, as is the case here, humans using it to hide something.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Montoni
  • Secret-Keeper: Emily, Valancourt, and Montoni.
  • Servile Snarker: Annette
  • Stalker with a Crush: Morano
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Emily and Valancourt
  • Übermensch: Montoni
  • War Is Hell