The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho Literary Elements


Gothic novel

Setting and Context

The novel is set in the late 16th century (beginning in 1584); the action of the plot takes place in various locations in France and Italy.

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is narrated by an omniscient third-person narrator; the narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of Emily and other characters.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the novel is often dark, foreboding, mysterious, and ominous. At times, however, the tone can also be elevated, sublime, and philosophical (such as when Emily contemplates the meaning of life, or responds to the beauty of the natural world). The mood is most often tense and suspenseful, or even despairing; it can also be exciting and adventurous.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Emily St. Aubert is the protagonist of the novel; Signor Montoni is the primary antagonist.

Major Conflict

The major conflict revolves around Emily's desire to live peacefully at her family estate of La Vallee, either as an independent woman or ideally with her beloved, Valancourt. A number of characters and circumstances present obstacles to this desire, by attempting to force Emily to give up her property, marry other men, prevent her from marrying Valancourt, or even imprisoning and hurting her.


The climax comes when Emily finally finds out the history of Sister Agnes, as this story reveals essentially all of the mysteries surrounding Udolpho, the Chateau Le Blanc, and Emily's own family history. This climax also leads directly to Emily inheriting a great deal of wealth, which combined with the news that Valancourt is still a good man, allows her to make more independent choices about her future, and resolves the central conflict.


The death of Emily's mother foreshadows the subsequent death of Emily's father. The cold and selfish behavior of Monsieur and Madame Quesnel when they first visit with Emily and her father at La Vallee foreshadows all of the ways that Emily's various relatives (including Montoni and her aunt) will be materialistic and focused on their own gain. The threat that Emily will be forced to marry a man she doesn't love foreshadows how her aunt, the Marchioness de Villeroi, was trapped in an unhappy marriage. The way that Madame Montoni is mistreated by her husband foreshadows the story of how the Marchioness was abused and ultimately killed by her husband.




There is an allusion to Hannibal’s passage over the Alps, between Montoni and his friend Cavigni during a dispute over which way the famed general had gone. Montoni contended that he entered Italy by way of Mount Cenis, and Cavigni that he passed over Mount St. Bernard.


Imagery is also one of the most widely used devices. Images of nature follow the reader throughout of the entire novel. For more details, view the Imagery section.




Parallels are drawn between the life lines of Emily and Valancourt, and of Emily and her friend Blanche.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“...groups of masks dancing frequently” (176). Groups of masks is a metonymy for people, as it was a Carnival and all the people were dressed in costumes and wearing masks.


"...rising moon, which threw a shadowy light upon the terraces” (176). The moon is personified as if it is a sentient being that can act intentionally.