Mysteries Of Udolpho · Tuesday Reflections

Udolpho Readalong – Part Four Review Volume 1 Chapters X & XI

the-mysteries-of-udolpho-1-480x480-75 Okay hopefully you all have had chance to look back over the previous posts should you have wished to, if not no problem all you need to know is our heroine annoyed me, her father annoyed me so much I was happy he died and our hero seems a bit of a soppy, creep at the minute.  We have spent hours trawling through descriptions of the Alps and other wondrous landscapes which although very striking and dramatically profiled dragged on so long you began to get the feeling once you have seen one mountain you have seen them all.

So onwards we go and into…

Chapter X

Our Heroine has returned to her family home and is mostly moping around feeling sorry for herself.  Now I know that sounds harsh the girl has just lost her remaining parent but there is grieving and there is moping and she is definitely moping.  I may have had more sympathy for her if it were not for the main part of this chapter.

I really really struggled to empathise with this, her fathers final request is she pull up a board in a cupboard in his study and burn the papers she will find there.  I fully appreciate that the level of obedience required by the age is very different to today but this really jars against human nature to me.  She is instructed that she must not read them, and although she falters for a moment she does obey his demand.  The thing is it strikes me on two levels that this is wrong.

Firstly surely her father would have had a manservant someone he could trust that it would have been more prudent to send these instructions to, as one would supposed the papers must contain something damning or morally questionably to demand their destruction, we know that he did not have one travelling with him but he could have asked her to convey the message either by word of mouth or carrying written instructions.  It also says something of St Aubert’s character that he would have papers he felt needed to be destroyed, he is we are led to believe a respectable widower so one must question what was in those papers that he required destroying so badly.

The second thing that strikes me as wrong about this is it is human nature to look, even when instructed not to in fact I would go so far as saying that those instructions would make most people even more determined to take a peek.  But even for the obedient child we are led to believe Emily is the fact these letters are written in her fathers hand would naturally lead to her looking over them, if not exactly reading them you would expect her to fawn over the remembrance of his handwriting, and from that to at least notice a few lines of what was so terrible it needed to be obliterated.

The final things I want to touch upon in this chapter are Valencourt and God.  I will deal with God first, I am finding it hard to put up with the constant religious references probably in part because the God featured in this book is not one I personally believe in but I think mainly because it is rammed down your throat at times.  I know at the time this book was written science was beginning to make huge strides towards explaining the mysteries of life and many writers were determined that science should play no part in their stories but I have to say the way it is constantly interjected disrupts the flow of the story and is very annoying.

And finally Valencourt this is our alleged hero yet from his actions here he is more of a creepy stalker loitering when he knows he should not and deliberately breaking conventions to see her when he knows he could seriously damage her reputation.  At this minute in time he seems a very selfish character concerned with his own wishes and desires rather than the woman he claims to love.

Chapter XI

A very short chapter yet actually gives far more scope for contemplation than some of the previous ones.

This chapter sees Emily removed from the family home to the house of her Aunt.  She is shocked to find the opulence and extravagance in which her Aunt lives especially when contrasted to the tastes of her own parents but the first real pause for thought this book has given me is in the relationship between these two.  We would naturally assume an affinity between two women grieving the loss of a brother to one and father to the other except these two are so very different in temperament it is impossible for them to relate to each other.  Neither has the empathy required to puts themselves in the others place, and despite Emily dwelling on how different her Aunt is from her father it is worth noting that his injunctions regarding how quickly grief and melancholy should be overcome reflect her Aunts opinions very closely.

The second note worthy point is the employment opportunities for our young hero Valencourt. While we frequently remind ourselves that in the 18th Century young ladies of good birth and standing had no opportunity to earn their own fortunes it is often forgotten that younger sons frequently found themselves in a similar position.  The older brother would inherit any property and wealth attending any titles, younger brothers however after receiving a fitting education could find themselves in a very precarious position.  They had neither independent wealth enough live in a style which their family name demanded but nor could they take employment that would be viewed as beneath their station.  In general only three options were open to them, the first marrying money, this was unlikely to happen unless the young man were especially pleasing and the young ladies family very understanding.   The chances are his older brother would be the object of pursuit until such a time as he were married then possibly a younger brother maybe considered as marriage material for a younger daughter who would bring some wealth but not enough to support them in style.  Extra finances would still be desired.

This left two realistic options the Clergy or Military.  The first would be more likely to be taken by a third or fourth son with little chance of financial betterment but would ensure a home and a certain level of lifestyle and respectability.  The latter is the most frequent for second sons, an amount would be invested to ensure that an officers would be secured as of course it would be unacceptable to serve as a common soldier but an army officer was considered gentile enough for keeping the family name intact and offered the opportunity to earn enough money to maintain a decent standard of living.

It is frequently forgotten that these young men, many of them totally unsuited to the positions the were pushed into were just as much victims of circumstances as their sisters.

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