The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What different literary genres are embedded in the novel, and what function do they serve?

    The Mysteries of Udolpho is best known as a Gothic novel, and it does feature many of the defining characteristics of that genre (i.e., a foreboding and isolated house, a young woman threatened by an older male villain, mysterious secrets, and the threat of supernatural happenings). However, the novel also contains significant aspects of other literary genres. There are extended descriptions of scenery and chronicles of journeys, suggesting the genre of the travelogue. The relationship between Emily and Valancourt brings aspects of a courtship plot to the novel, resolving with their marriage. Because of Emily's penchant for composing poems, there is also a significant amount of poetry included in the novel. The inclusion of these other genres both relieves and heightens the tension of the central Gothic plot. These other types of writing do not contain the same suspense and threat of danger, but they also postpone and delay the conclusion of the Gothic plot. Because of all these other types of writing, readers have to wait patiently to finally learn all the details of the mysteries Emily encounters.

  2. 2

    Compare and contrast the male characters who function as paternal figures towards Emily.

    At the start of the novel, Emily enjoys a very close and loving relationship with her biological father, Monsieur St. Aubert. The two of them are very similar, and Monsieur St. Aubert is both a wise and loving father. He seems to notice that Valancourt would be a good match for his daughter even before Emily herself does! On his deathbed, Monsieur St. Aubert gives Emily good advice about making logical decisions; however, he also leaves her vulnerable by keeping details of her family history secret from her. After the death of her father, Emily's two uncles, Monsieur Quesnel and Signor Montoni, become important paternal figures in her life. However, they care almost exclusively about money and using Emily as a pawn for their own ambitions. Whereas her father had chosen a man who would be a loving partner, Quesnel and Montoni want Emily to marry whoever has the most money, even if that man might be cruel to her. Finally, when Emily escapes back to France, the Count de Villefort becomes a paternal figure in her life. He does care about Emily's happiness, and tries to protect her from Valancourt when he mistakenly believes that Valancourt is unworthy of her. However, the Count also ultimately respects Emily's right to choose for herself, and even though he would like to see her marry Du Pont, he does not try to force her.

  3. 3

    Why is the mystery of the black veil left undisclosed for so long?

    Keep in mind that the title of the book is not singular in regard to the strangeness going on within the walls of the Gothic castle. It is plural. When Emily lifts the veil and sees something so horrifying that it causes her to faint, the story is about a third of the way through. Emily isn’t telling anyone exactly what she saw and that ignorance extends to the reader who is forced to wonder as the imagination digs in and comes up all sorts of possibilities. This neat little trick has the effect of putting the reader more firmly into Emily’s shoes as someone who knows that something that has weird aspect of a nightmarish middle ground between the real and the unreal is going on, but is not exactly sure of the details. It is not until the very end of the novel that both Emily and the readers learn what was hidden under the veil: a wax sculpture meant to replicate a decaying corpse.

  4. 4

    What role does the threat of the supernatural play in the novel?

    At Udolpho, Emily is faced with very real dangers: the threat that she may be beaten, raped, or even killed by Montoni and his band of Italian ruffians. However, Emily is perpetually distracted by more eerie happenings, implying that the castle may be haunted by the mysterious Signora Laurentini or by someone else. The Chateau Le Blanc is also home to mysterious sights and sounds, leading to widespread fears that the rooms where the Marchioness died are now haunted. These supernatural elements are a defining feature of the Gothic genre, and they make for a suspenseful and exciting reading experience. It is important to note that all of these strange happenings are eventually given non-supernatural explanations: the events in the rooms of the Marchioness are explained by the presence of the Spanish pirates, and the disappearance of the Signora is explained by Agnes having fled the castle in secret.

  5. 5

    What is the importance of the servant and peasant characters in the novel?

    Most of the central characters in the novel are wealthy French or Italian aristocrats. However, a number of servants play important roles in the novel, including Annette, Ludovico, Dorothee, and Theresa. These characters tend to have strong connections to the past, and can therefore provide important information about events that took place decades before. As Emily tries to piece together the mysteries of the fates of the Marchioness and the Signora Laurentini, she is reliant on information from servants who have long standing ties to their households. Even in the present day, servants tend to have access to much more information because they can move around more freely, and also gossip with servants from other households. During her time at Udolpho, Emily is almost totally reliant on information that is conveyed to her secondhand by Annette and Ludovico.