The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-14


Emily is devastated by the death of her father. The abbess of the nearby convent of St. Clair invites Emily to visit her and the nuns, and Emily finds some comfort there. As Emily and La Voisin walk home from the convent late at night, they pass by the mysterious Villeroi chateau that Emily had previously seen with her father. La Voisin reiterates that the chateau is abandoned, and that mysterious things happened there, but he will not tell her any details. Before he died, St. Aubert had given specific instructions to be buried in the convent of St. Clair, near the tomb of the Villeroi family, and Emily oversees his burial there. After the funeral, Emily stays at the convent to recover herself. Madame Cheron is now Emily's guardian, and she writes to Emily that she will send a servant to accompany Emily on the journey back to La Vallee. Emily wants to go home, but she is hurt that her aunt is sending her back to stay alone rather than offering to care for her.

Emily journeys back to La Vallee and arrives home, where she is distressed by all the memories of her father. Emily even begins to think she might be seeing spirits, but seems to be merely frightening herself. Madame Cheron invites Emily to join her at her estate, but Emily prefers to stay at La Vallee, and asks permission to remain there. Monsieur Barreaux is very kind to Emily, and over time her grief starts to fade.

One evening, Emily is visiting the old fishing house to reminisce about her parents, and she is surprised to run into Valancourt. Valancourt's family lives nearby, and he is visiting them amidst his travels. Emily sadly tells Valancourt about the death of her father, and he is very saddened. He promises to come and visit Emily while he is in the area. The encounter with Valancourt reminds Emily of her promise to find and burn the hidden papers, so the following day she follows her father's instructions to unearth the papers. Absentmindedly, Emily catches sight of some of the writing and is tempted to read them. However, she honors her promise, and burns them. She also finds a picture of a beautiful woman, and recognizes it as the same woman that she had seen in the portrait her father was weeping over. Thinking back to her father's strange reaction to the mention of the Marchioness of Villeroi, Emily wonders if this could be her.

Valancourt comes to see Emily, and tells her that he is planning to continue his travels. He also declares his love for her. Emily is moved, but hesitates because she does not currently have any family around, so there is no one to give permission to Valancourt to woo her. The couple are surprised by Madame Cheron, who has finally shown up at La Vallee. She is annoyed that Emily is with a young man unaccompanied, and assumes that Emily wanted to stay at La Vallee so that she can have secret trysts. She insists that Emily now come back to Toulouse with her. Emily objects to Madame Cheron insulting her, and explains that Valancourt was close with her father during their journey together. Madame Cheron nonetheless objects because she does not think Valancourt is wealthy enough. Madame Cheron rushes Emily through packing up, and the pair leave for Toulouse the very next day.

Meanwhile, Valancourt is trying to assess his prospects with Emily's family. He comes from a good family, but he is a younger son, so he has not inherited anything. Valancourt is enlisted in the army, since that was the only acceptable profession for someone of noble birth. He is hopeful of getting promoted and thinks that he and Emily could have a modest but comfortable life. At Toulouse, Emily tries to be optimistic, but dislikes everything about her aunt's home and lifestyle. The two Italian men whom Emily had previously met, Signor Montoni and Signor Cavigni, are regularly spending time at Madame Cheron's home, and Emily feels uncomfortable around both of them. One night, Emily sees a man ride by who seems to resemble Valancourt. The next day, Madame Cheron is enraged to receive a letter from Valancourt; she assumes Emily must have encouraged him to continue to court her, even after Madame Cheron forbade it. Madame Cheron threatens to put Emily in a convent if she does not behave, and Emily promises not to have any contact with Valancourt without her aunt's permission. However, the next day she runs into Valancourt by chance: he has been trying to persuade her aunt to meet with him. Madame Cheron catches them together and tells Valancourt to stop pursuing her niece, and Emily to stop seeing him unless she wants to get sent to a convent.

That night, Emily and her aunt attend a fancy dress ball at the home of Madame Clairval. Madame Clairval is a wealthy and fashionable lady, and Madame Cheron is anxious to impress her. Valancourt is at the ball, dancing with a beautiful and wealthy woman, which is very upsetting to Emily. At the ball, Emily also starts to suspect that her aunt hopes to marry Signor Montoni. However, at the same ball, Madame Cheron finds out that Valancourt is Madame Clairval's nephew, and this information makes her change her opinion of him. She begins to hope that Emily's marriage to Valancourt would have advantages for her, so she allows them to court, and says that if Valancourt can get promoted and increase his income, the two can marry in a few years. Emily and Valancourt spend the next few months happily deepening their relationship.

After a few months, Madame Cheron becomes impatient to reap the benefits of Emily's marriage, and demands the wedding happen as soon as possible. Emily and Valancourt are surprised, but agree to this new timeline. However, Madame Cheron (hereafter Madame Montoni) abruptly announces that she has married Signor Montoni. In the wake of this announcement, she first postpones Emily's wedding, and then says that the engagement will be called off entirely. She claims that Montoni thinks that Valancourt is not good enough for Emily; they will be bringing Emily with them to Venice. Madame Montoni is no longer interested in the marriage since she has now acquired greater wealth and status through her own marriage. Emily is devastated and Valancourt is furious; he tries to argue with Signor and Madame Montoni, but they refuse to listen. He even suggests that he and Emily elope, but she thinks this would be shameful. Valancourt becomes increasingly alarmed because he doesn't trust Montoni, and has even heard suspicious rumors about the man. However, Emily refuses to run away with him, and the two of them part ways with deep grief.


The introduction of the convent of St. Clair, and the strange history of the Villeroi family and their chateau (later named as Chateau Le Blanc), heightens the sense of mystery and suspense within the plot. Especially given St. Aubert's strong attachment to La Vallee and his roots there, it seemingly makes no sense that he would ask to be buried in a remote location, next to a family he seems to have no ties to. Emily idealizes her father's memory, but in the lead up to and aftermath of his death, details such as St. Aubert's request for her to burn the hidden papers hint that he clearly has a history unknown to his daughter. Emily shows loyalty and familial love by carrying out her father's instructions, but she also perpetuates her own ignorance at a time when it is becoming more and more important for her to act in her own interests.

Indeed, in this section of the novel, Emily makes a series of crucial errors because she clings to values of propriety, trust, and decorum. Madame Cheron/Montoni is uncaring and doesn't understand her niece; she mistakes Emily for a more assertive and desirous young woman who would do something like carry on a clandestine affair. Given that it later becomes apparent that Madame Cheron has been carrying on a relationship with Montoni during this period, she might be more suspicious of Emily because she assumes Emily has desires and aspirations similar to her own.

Although this plot aspect will not be revealed until much later, Madame Cheron/Montoni is also the sister of the ill-fated Marchioness Villeroi, who had tried to marry for love but was eventually forced to marry the Marquis. When she tries to control and discipline Emily, Madame Cheron might be thinking of her sister's attempts to follow her heart, or even the notion that Emily might have inherited willful tendencies. Because St. Aubert has not told Emily anything about the experiences of a previous generation, she lacks tools and understanding to navigate her own experience of loving Valancourt and being barred from him.

Madame Cheron/Montoni clearly displays her values, both in how she treats her niece and how she manages her own relationships. It is not revealed how her first marriage came about, but given that she is now the owner of a prosperous estate, it seems likely that money was a factor in her marriage to her first husband. She is not concerned with Emily's happiness, and makes a series of very calculating choices about whether or not Valancourt is an acceptable match for her niece. Her philosophy contrasts with the way St. Aubert had interacted with Valancourt: he was solely interested in whether or not Valancourt was a kind, intelligent, and honorable person, and used this to gauge Valancourt's character rather than his assets. Despite her commitment to trying to secure a wealthy and advantageous match for Emily, Madame Cheron is also easily deceived and confused. She is not actually effective at determining Valancourt's status, which foreshadows how she will also be deceived when it comes to Montoni. Madame Cheron, bizarrely, becomes almost a rival for attention: she doesn't want Emily to overshadow her as a much younger, more beautiful, and more nubile bride. Madame Cheron has powerfully internalized the logic of the patriarchal society around her, and now enforces this logic on to another woman. She sees her goal as being securing wealth and power via marriages, and her value as being defined by her ability to attract masculine attention.

Emily's liminal status as an orphan and her lack of agency is highlighted most strongly by the abrupt end to her engagement. When Madame Cheron marries Signor Montoni, he has a strong degree of control over her, and then by extension, over Emily. Emily unwittingly passes on to the control of a male figure whom she knows very little about. He can do things like determine whom she marries, and where she will live; while Emily is saddened to lose Valancourt, she is ultimately not willing to defy Montoni's pseudo-paternal authority. Perhaps because her father was such a profound influence on her, Emily sees herself as obligated to honor her new guardians, even though it seems apparent that they are not acting in her best influence. Valancourt is willing to marry Emily so that he can protect her, but Emily maintains an idealistic stance, and remains committed to her values. This choice will not only severely impact her relationship with Valancourt, but will also put her in a perilous situation once she travels to Italy.