The First Edition of Radcliffe’s Gothic Masterpiece

Radcliffe, Ann (1764–1823)

The Mysteries of Udolpho. A Romance Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry.

London: Printed for C.G. and J. Robinson, 1794

$6,800.00

12mo. 4 vols. [ii], 428; [ii], 478; [ii], 463, [1]; [ii], 428 pp., without half-titles, as usual.

FIRST EDITION.

A handsome set, bound in contemporary quarter calf and marbled boards, red leather spine labels. Slight rubbing to joints and corners, internally very fine, clean and crisp. A choice copy of one of the most famous and best-selling gothic romances.

Ann Radcliffe's “The Mysteries of Udolpho” was a hugely influential work of early Gothic horror. Set in France and Italy in the late 16th century, the novel’s protagonist, Emily St Aubert lives with her loving, enlightened parents in exquisitely happy rural isolation. But when she is tragically orphaned, the beautiful young woman finds herself at the mercy of her heartless aunt's sinister new husband. The violent and cruel Signor Montoni, the perfect Gothic villain, has designs upon his wife's fortune, and that of her niece, and imprisons them in the gloomy medieval castle Udolpho. Separated from her beloved Valancourt, Emily must cope with torments of wild imaginings and terrors, as ghostly omens and attempts upon her virtue and life threaten to overwhelm her. Eventually Emily escapes, and the novel ends happily with Emily’s marriage to the man she loves. Like other Gothic novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho contains ruined castles, beautiful countryside, a virtuous heroine and a villain. There are a number of strange occurrences in that seem to be supernatural, but which are revealed to have rational explanations.

“Radcliffe was unquestionably the dominant romance writer of the 1790s. Her influence on the fiction of the decade, and on what has subsequently come to be known as the Gothic novel, was formative and deep. Her position is reflected in the unprecedented sums she received for her last two novels: £500 for Udolpho, and £800 for The Italian. To put these figures in perspective, £80 was the average payment for the surrender of copyright.

“Although Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron (1777), and Sophia Lee's The Recess (1783–5) were Radcliffe's acknowledged models, critics were united in saying that Radcliffe had transformed her ‘meagre’ materials into a new, powerful and ‘enchanting’ form. Among her critics there was virtual unanimity that she stood at the head of her own school of romance. At the peak of her career, much imitated, much lauded, and very richly rewarded, Ann Radcliffe suddenly stopped publishing. She had become one of the country's most famous novelists and was still only thirty-three. At the time of her death in 1823, Radcliffe was hailed as the ‘great enchantress’ and the ‘Shakespeare of Romance writers’ and was generally esteemed as one of the pre-eminent novelists of her generation.”(Robert Miles)

Rothschild 1701; Summers, pp. 434-35; ESTC T62063