After the death of Emily's father, Madame Cheron (later Montoni) becomes Emily's guardian, and is initially very opposed to any relationship between Emily and Valancourt. Even though she loves Valancourt, Emily is very committed to being obedient and virtuous, and tries to follow her aunt's instructions. She has already told Valancourt that it would be inappropriate for him to woo her without permission from a parent or guardian. However, through a series of unfortunate coincidences, Madame Cheron keeps catching Emily in what appear to be compromising situations, and believes that Emily is encouraging a relationship with Valancourt. This misunderstanding is an example of dramatic irony, because readers are aware that Emily is trying her best to obey her aunt, but Madame Cheron does not know this. The dramatic irony functions to show that Madame Cheron doesn't know anything about her niece: anyone who knows Emily's true character would know that she would never carry on a clandestine relationship. In fact, obedience and loyalty to her family will be Emily's downfall; if she had been willing to sneak around with Valancourt, she would have been better off! The dramatic irony also further highlights the gap between Emily and her aunt's approach to love and relationships: Emily has passionate feelings, but always wants to act virtuously and with integrity, whereas Madame Cheron is much more pragmatic, and would be more likely to do something like have a secret relationship if it suited her purposes.
The Marriage of Signor and Madame Montoni (Situational Irony)
Initially, Madame Montoni is happy to marry Signor Montoni because he seems wealthy, glamorous, and exotic. However, after some time in Italy, it is revealed that Montoni actually does not have much wealth available to him. Ironically, it turns out that Montoni married his French wife precisely because he wanted access to her fortune. The ironic reveal that each party was trying to trick the other and use the marriage as a way to advance their own prospects quickly makes their relationship antagonistic and miserable. The situational irony is important because it shows that they are quite similar to one another, and potentially deserve each other as partners. However, while the situational irony creates an initial equality between both partners trying to deceive each other, it quickly dissipates with Signor Montoni being able to abuse and imprison his wife in an effort to gain obedience.
The Pirates in the Rooms of the Marchioness (Situational Irony)
For years, suspicious sounds, movement, and even sightings in the rooms where the Marchioness de Villeroi died have led to fears that these rooms might be haunted. During Emily's stay at the Chateau Le Blanc, these strange occurrences are heightened, and a general hysteria sets in about possible hauntings. In a moment of situational irony, where events contrast with the expectations of readers, it is eventually revealed that a band of pirates and smugglers have been using the rooms to store their goods and move them in and out. This explanation is ironic because it has nothing to do with supernatural events, or even with the history of the Villeroi family. In fact, the smugglers have intentionally exploited the fears in order to carry out their illegal activities; they have been able to act very boldly because any strange sights or sounds would be attributed to the haunting. Ironically, the more people feared what might be happening in these rooms, the more strange things happened, as the smugglers felt emboldened.
Emily's Longing for Valancourt (Dramatic Irony)
While Emily is in Italy, readers are given a brief glimpse in to Valancourt's life in Paris during this time. Radcliffe explains that because he is grieving for the end of their relationship, Valancourt falls into a dissipated lifestyle and starts drinking, gambling, and spending time with disreputable women who may become his mistresses. However, Emily knows nothing about these events until much later. Because she is unaware, she continues to pine for Valancourt and imagine him as a heroic and chivalrous man who might potentially come and rescue her. These hopes and longings form an example of dramatic irony because readers know that Valancourt is living a dissolute life in Paris, and has no capacity to help Emily; at this point, he can barely help himself.
The Mysteries of Udolpho Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Mysteries of Udolpho is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.