What a treat this is! The Mysteries of Udolpho, another Gothic novel, follows the trials and tribulations of Emily, a young woman who loses her family, her home and her lover through a concatenation of unfortunate events that brings her eventually to Castle Udolpho, a dark and vicious place ruled over by the avaricious, ruthless Count Montoni (why are Gothic villians always Counts?) where terrible secrets lurk around every corner...
So far, so cliched. The plot, it's true, takes the ubiquitous twists and turns, relying on indecent amounts of coincidence and contrivance, on artificially kept secrets and dubious motives. The heroine swoons on an all-too regular basis and succumbs at least once a chapter to transports of emotion too intense to support. It's all very claustrophobic, very overwrought; finishing it is a little like coming up for air out of a kind of treacly swamp of emotion.
But the prose! the prose is just wonderful. Dreamy, atmospheric, almost hallucinogenic, conjuring up visions of vast mountainscapes, warm Italian plains, gloomy castles, with a fidelity and an atmosphere that is hypnotically moreish:
Groves of orange and lemon perfumed the air, their ripe fruit glowing among the foliage; while, sloping to the plains, extensive vineyards spread their treasures. Beyond these, woods and pastures, and mingled towns and hamlets stretched towards the sea, on whose bright surface gleamed many a distant sail; while, over the whole scene was diffused the purple glow of evening.
And this makes up for everything.