...bright with the verdure of palm trees, adorn, like gems, the tremendous walls of the rocks. (28-29)
This example shows Radcliffe using a simile to embellish her descriptions of nature early in the novel, as Emily and her father journey through the Pyrenees mountains. Radcliffe is known for her elaborate descriptions of sublime landscapes, such as mountainous regions, and she creates characters who have a keen appreciation of beauty. The simile of green trees studding a rock face like gems serves several purposes in the novel. It shows that St. Aubert is a wealthy aristocrat, who has seen luxurious items like gemstones, but it also shows where he truly finds joy and places his values. For St. Aubert, features of the natural landscape such as trees and mountains are truly wondrous, and luxuries and worldly goods are unimportant. He passes this view down to his daughter: even though Emily is a beautiful young woman, she never shows any interest in gowns or jewels, and is only moved by natural beauty around her.
St. Aubert's Affection for Valancourt (Simile)
It is cheering and reviving, like the view of spring to a sick person, his mind catches somewhat of the spirit of the season, and his eyes are lighted up with the transient sunshine. Valancourt is this spring to me. (57)
St. Aubert uses this simile to describe his affection for Valancourt to Emily, and why he enjoys the company of the much younger man. Initially, St. Aubert bonds more with Valancourt than even Emily does, and this fondness is related to the fact that St. Aubert is sick and elderly, and knows that he is approaching the end of his life. St. Aubert compares the experience of spending time with a young man to how a sick patient would be revived by the change of seasons. Even if an individual is approaching the end of their life, the world continues to renew around them, as winter passes, and spring comes again. The change of seasons is a reminder that everything is cyclical, and renews itself eventually. Likewise, while St. Aubert's life is drawing to a close, for young men like Valancourt, life is just beginning. The simile may even subtly allude to St. Aubert's private hopes that Valancourt and Emily will eventually marry, and that in Valancourt, St. Aubert sees the prospective father of his future grandchildren and the continuation of his dynasty.
Speak as a Man (Simile)
Speak as becomes a man, not as the slave of a pretty tyrant. (200)
Montoni speaks this line in Venice, when he scolds Morano for the way he is wooing Emily. Montoni uses a simile in which Morano is a slave, and Emily is a powerful but presumably cruel master (tyrant). This simile reveals Montoni's view of gender relations and foreshadows the way he will behave towards his own wife and towards Emily. For Montoni, it is extremely important that a man assert dominance and control; he not only sees this as what he is entitled to, but he also thinks this is the way to charm a woman and get her to willingly submit. Morano's attempts to be more gentle and fawning with Emily disgust Montoni, and are viewed as a display of weakness. All of Montoni's ideas about relationships are framed through the lens of power and dominance, and if a man is not firmly in control, then the woman will seize power and become dominant. This simile shows that Montoni cannot conceive of a situation wherein two partners equitably share power and control.
Morano's Behavior (Simile)
...he stamped about the hall, like a madman, cursing Montoni and his own folly. (273)
This simile describes Morano's behavior when he learns that Montoni has reneged on their agreement and fled to Udolpho, taking Emily with him. Morano's rage and frustration is so extreme that he is comparable to someone who has gone insane. This simile allows Radcliffe to play with the stereotype of volatile, emotional Italians. Morano, like many of Montoni's other compatriots, reacts very strongly to emotions, and can quickly become violent and lash out. This behavior contrasts the values of thoughtful and measured actions espoused by French characters, especially St. Aubert. He cautions Emily to make sure her emotions never take control of her reason, which is an important caution in contrast to the emotional and irrational characters she will soon find herself surrounded by.
Montoni's Death (Simile)
...he had become a clod of earth, and his life was vanished like a shadow. (580)
This simile appears when Emily learns that Montoni has died. The simile compares Montoni to harmless and transitory things like earth and shadows, signaling that his power has been eliminated and he can no longer pose a threat to Emily and her happiness. Even after escaping from Udolpho, Emily has never felt entirely at ease, and has always been afraid that Montoni will somehow disrupt her life again. Given his almost outsized presence as the villain in the novel, the simile is important for showing that Montoni's presence completely dissipates. The simile is also important for connecting to one of the central themes of the novel: dark and possibly supernatural presences being dispelled when truth is revealed. Throughout the book, many frightening events end up getting resolved with matter-of-fact events (such as the smugglers hiding in the Chateau, or the wax figure behind the black veil). Likewise, Montoni's fate ends up being resolved in a very ordinary and matter-of-fact way: like all other humans, he dies and vanishes away.
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.