Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012



The Mysteries of Udolpho
by Ann Radcliffe
p. 1794

  I read this book back in 2010 but didn't write a review back then because, back then... I WASN'T BEING AS THOROUGH.   I thought now would be an appropriate time to slip it in because I just read ANOTHER book published in 1794, Caleb Williams by William Godwin, and reviewed it.

  1794, 1794 what's so great about 1794?  I would argue that is the first example of popular literary "taste" being expressed in a preference for dark themes and super natural influences.  This trend undoubtedly reflected that the Audience for books like The Mysteries of Udolpho, Caleb Williams and The Monk were, in fact, superstitious and had an interest in religion inspired "matters of the soul."

    The Mysteries of Udolpho was published in a set of four volumes.  The Monk was published in a single volume, anonymously.  I don't know how Caleb Williams was published, but I imagine it was a single volume.   "A modern estimate of the average annual publication of new books, excluding pamphlets, suggests that an almost fourfold increase occurred during the century; annual output from 1666 to 1756 averaging less than 100, and that from 1792 to 1802, 372." (1)

     What that tells you is that there was a rise in the corresponding Audience that was driving increased production of Books. It also tells you that the fact that two of the top 1000 books were both published in 1794 is something more then coincidence- it's the actual beginning of the second period identified where average book production was 372 a year.   1794 must have been a year where the publishing world was expanding and publishers were looking for additional titles to print, opening the door to new authors and different combinations of subject matter and format.

  The Mysteries of Udolpho is like the arch-type for the late 18th century Gothic Novel: Abducted heroine, draft castles in mysterious locations, spirits, etc.

 Perhaps the most enduring part of Udolpho besides its status as gothic novel par excellance is the depiction of geography:  She accompanies him on a journey from their native Gascony, through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean coast of Roussillon, over many mountainous landscapes.  ROMANTIC LANDSCAPES.


(1) Majorie Plant, The English Book Trade (London, 1939), p.445 cited in Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, p. 37 (1957)

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