Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ann Radcliffe's _The Mysteries of Udolpho_

Yesterday I finally finished reading Ann Radcliffe's Gothic Romance The Mysteries of Udolpho on the wonderful BookGlutton website. Ann Radcliffe was an English novelist who lived between the years 1764-1823. Encouraged by her husband to write, she published a few novels and some poetry during her life. The Mysteries of Udolpho is a typical Gothic Romance with the requisite young, innocent, and naive heroine who finds her true love only to be separated from him by avaricious relatives after her parents' death. I was surprised to read that Ann Radcliffe influenced other authors such as Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Sir Walter Scott, and Mary Wollstonecraft--all of them among my favorite authors. Considering Radcliffe's extensive descriptions of landscape, though, I shouldn't be surprised.

As I read, I couldn't help but think about Carl Jung's theory of Archetypes and especially the anima, or feminine archetype--the soul, and the animus, or masculine archetype--logic and reason, and their eventual union in a "Holy Wedding," or coniunctio, the union of opposites. One could follow the lovers in a typical Gothic Romance, assigning the role of animus to the male, and the role of the anima to the young lady. In order for a young boy to come to full maturation, he must first go on a quest and conquer the dragon, which is really the "terrible mother" (a negative aspect of the Great Mother archetype), and usually the "old king" (usually his father, or the "old man") must die. When the boy accomplishes this, he becomes the "new man"--i.e. he becomes the fully matured man he was meant to be. Gothic Romances usually do not contain a whole lot in the vein of illustrating this process (look to the Arthurian legends for this), but they do contain a lot about the maturation process of the innocent girl. In order for a girl to become a woman, she has to accomplish tasks, which usually involves a lot of waiting around for a man to come and rescue her. Archetypically, she is really working at those things peculiarly feminine, i.e. patience, nurturance, and love, while learning the masculine art of logic and reason. When the masculine traits of logic and reason are formed in her in a healthy manner (accomplished with the help of the positive aspects of her animus), there is a union of opposites--a coniunctio oppositorum. The trick is to be able to identify both the negative and positive aspects of the archetypes. The desired coming to consciousness, or adulthood, is also a process described in alchemy, in which the prima materia, having been split into various forms, finally comes back together in a "Holy Wedding," or conjunction--coniunctio.

The Mysteries of Udolpho is full of this process, but I think it would spoil the story for you if I outlined all this. Suffice it to say that Emily St. Aubert faces her negative Great Mother, in the aspect of her aunt, and suffers terribly under the avaricious and sadistic negative animus in the aspect of Montini who marries her aunt. Fortunately, there are plenty of the positive aspects of Emily's animus who come to her rescue and help her along her path to adulthood and happiness.

Once I got past the schmaltz of Radcliffe's romantic descriptions, I really liked this book. Actually, I learned a few things in the process, too. I recommend it to your attention.

*A Glossary of Jungian Terms


  1. Suzanna, thank you for reminding me of this post. I did, in fact, read it July 16th and have been thinking about it since.

    The timing of it was curious to me because just prior to your writing this, the hubster talked to me about Jung and the archtypes. He spent a good deal of time reading Jung while in Seminary and found it fascinating.

    Then the day after you posted this, my spiritual brother and I talked about Jung. Father is not in favor of his analysis because of the separation of it from God. Elder Sophrony steered Father (and others) away from Jung because of Father's past (negative/demonic) experience with these philosophical writers.

    Nonetheless, I have bookmarked BookGlutton and want to read this story. Thanks for writing such a great post!