The Mysteries of Udolpho is a Gothic novel by Ann Radcliffe, published in 1794. It was one of the most popular novels of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was then and continues to be widely regarded as a key text in the development of the Gothic genre.
This is the fifth edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho and, like the first edition, is in four volumes. Each volume in this edition has an illustration facing the title page. At the bottom of each illustration is the chapter and page number within that volume which contains the scene depicted. Most of these scenes are highly dramatic, in keeping with the Gothic style.
The Mysteries of Udolpho is set in France and Italy in the late 16th century. The main character is Emily St. Aubert, a beautiful and virtuous young woman. When her father dies, the orphaned Emily goes to live with her aunt. Her aunt’s husband, an Italian nobleman called Montoni, tries to force Emily to marry his friend. Montoni is a typical Gothic villain. He is violent and cruel to his wife and Emily, and locks them in his castle. Eventually Emily escapes, and the novel ends happily with Emily’s marriage to the man she loves.
Like other Gothic novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho contains ruined castles, beautiful countryside, a virtuous heroine and a villain. There are a number of strange occurrences in the novel which seem to be supernatural, but which are revealed to have rational explanations. This too is a common theme in Gothic novels, although other examples of the genre (such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk) do feature the genuinely supernatural.