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review 2018-11-01 14:12
The Mysteries of Udolpho / Ann Radcliffe
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe

The Mysteries of Udolpho is the story of orphan Emily St. Aubert, who finds herself separated from the man she loves and confined within the medieval castle of her aunt's new husband, Montoni. Inside the castle, she must cope with an unwanted suitor, Montoni's threats, and the wild imaginings and terrors that threaten to overwhelm her.

 

I read this book to fill the Gothic square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

This is the mother of all Gothic romance, originally published in 1794. Twenty-first century readers may find themselves challenged by the style. Here is Wanda’s recommended reading instructions for The Mysteries of Udolpho:

1. Practice your patience. Readers in the 18th century weren’t in a rush and didn’t expect lean prose or fast plot development. Don’t read to a deadline if you can help it—trying to rush through will probably frustrate you further.
2. Develop your taste for scenic descriptions. Because you’re going to be reading a lot of them. Apparently good people spend a lot of time gazing at the mountains and the moon and rhapsodizing about them and bad people can’t be bothered. Now you know which kind of person you are.
3. Speaking of which, decide whether you are going to read all of the poetry & songs or not. I started to skip them about 1/3 of the way through the book. It was minutes of my life that I wasn’t going to get back.
4. Prepare yourself to be horrified, not at the so-called horrors of the book, but at the limited role of women in 18th century society. Their lives are controlled and run by the men who claim authority over them. If their wishes are listened to at all, they are lucky.
5. Prepare yourself for the boredom of women’s lives, at least upper-class women, who seem to do a lot of sitting around. You can paint, you can read, you can admire the scenery (see #2 above), you can do needlework. Sometimes, you can go for scenic walks. If you’re really lucky, your controlling men (see #4) will take you to a party. But mostly you sit around in your dreary chamber and talk to yourself.
6. There will be crying and fainting. Lots and lots of it. Or swooning or being rendered speechless. In fact the main character, Emily, seems to subsist on meals consisting of a few grapes and half a glass of wine, after staying up most of the night listening for mysterious music or watching for spectres. It’s no wonder that she tips over so easily, as she’s under-nourished and under-slept all the time.

This is where so many of the Gothic romance tropes got their start—the orphaned young woman, struggling to make her own way in the world, adored by every man who stumbles across her path—she and her true love have a communication issue which leads to a horrible misunderstanding and much suffering on both sides, until the truth comes out. Radcliffe introduces the mystery element too—who is the woman in the miniature portrait left behind by Emily’s father? Why does Emily look so much like her?

Truly, I’m glad to have read this ancestress to the Gothic romances that I’ve enjoyed since junior high school. But wow I’m also glad that writing styles and expectations have moved along.

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text 2018-10-31 13:34
Reading progress update: I've read 591 out of 654 pages.
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe

 

Almost done!  If I can finish it this evening, I'll be done all of my Halloween Bingo choices within the time limit.  Yay!

 

The pace has picked up in these, the final pages of the novel.  Emily is back in France and she is getting used to a new life there.  It remains to be seen if it will be a happy ending.

 

I will definitely have things to say in my review!

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text 2018-10-30 13:47
Reading progress update: I've read 475 out of 654 pages.
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe

 

Less than 200 pages left to go. 

 

It's a marvel that Emily manages to get anything done--she refuses to eat, she stays up all night listening & thinking, basically it's no wonder that she feels faint so often.

 

I'm glad I tackled this old Gothic tale, but wow, times have changed!  It's not easy for the modern reader to wade through all the descriptive detail.

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review 2018-10-28 01:45
Competition for survival
The Midwich Cuckoos - John Wyndham

This one went into and explored many of the points that I thought Chocky would, which is doubly great because creepy kids are disturbing as hell, and because I can give Wyndham props for not repeating himself in hindsight.

 

There are differences with the pop-culture classic movie, as it always happens. Beyond the distillation over our narrator and Zellaby (which I imagine stems from a wish to transfer all the BAMF quality from the seemingly absent minded old man to a younger MC), the big fact is that the mind reading is not part of the original book. There is enough flash and imminent danger with the will thing. The hive mind is the cherry that makes the eerie otherness cake.

 

I loved how things proceed slowly, and this insistence of going about business as usual. When the mothers bring the babies back to town, you immediately go "Oh, fuck", and in their heart of hearts, you know every character kinda does too, but they bury themselves in self denial. And as the book comes closer to the end, you start thinking back to Zellaby's wondering if civilization had not been a bad survival idea.

 

Seriously, for all the old man seemed to everyone as digressing from the current point, he was very much clear-sighted.

 

I loved the sci-fi call backs (and the niggling for none going into the morally ambiguous). Some of the doubts it tries to posit (specially on evolution) are a matter of "science marches on" but I always end up finding the idea of outside influence entertaining. The social commentary (outside the references to sci-fi, that is after all a commentary on society too) was a mixed bag, some insightful, some blithely chauvinistic, and there is what is clearly a lesbian couple never addressed as such, so maaaybe fair for its time.

 

At any rate, I had fun reading it. And that's a good way to wrap up my bingo card and get my reading black-out. Just to wait for the calls now.

 

 

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text 2018-10-28 00:33
Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 220 pages.
The Midwich Cuckoos - John Wyndham

‘Oh, yes… where was I?’
‘With H. G.’s Martians,’ I told him.
‘Of course. Well, there you have the prototype of innumerable invasions. A super-weapon which man fights valiantly with his own puny armoury until he is saved by one of several possible kinds of bell. Naturally, in America it is all rather bigger and better. Something descends, and something comes out of it. Within ten minutes, owing no doubt to the excellent communications in that country, there is a coast-to-coast panic, and all highways out of all cities are crammed, in all lanes, by the fleeing populace – except in Washington. There, by contrast, enormous crowds stretching as far as the eye can reach, stand grave and silent, white-faced but trusting, with their eyes upon the White House, while somewhere in the Catskills a hitherto ignored professor and his daughter, with their rugged young assistant strive like demented midwives to assist the birth of the dea ex laboritoria which will save the world at the last moment, minus one.

That's a "take that!" that has not lost it's being current.

 

 

Wrapping up my last read towards Bingo-blackout tonight.

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