This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Saturday Rave: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe was paid £500 for her book The Mysteries of Udolpho, which was published in 1794. Jane Austen's mischievous tribute to it, Northanger Abbey, was bought in 1803 for £10 by a publisher who never bothered to publish it at all.

This is an entirely topsy-turvy state of affairs, because The Mysteries of Udolpho is, as it happens, precisely fifty times worse as a novel than Northanger Abbey. 

Even so, it's probably still worth a look. The Mysteries of Udolpho is set in Italy and the south of France in the 1500s, and its straightforward style, coupled with its careful if endless attention to exotic landscape and hardened villains, shows plainly why it sold by the barrow load.

Here's a bit of local colour from near the beginning of the book:

The peasants of this gay climate were often seen on an evening, when the day's labour was done, dancing in groups on the margin of the river. Their sprightly melodies, debonnaire steps, the fanciful figure of their dances, with the tasteful and capricious manner in which the girls adjusted their simple dress, gave a character to the scene entirely French.

Which, even before you've come across the evilly-disposed aunt, the black veil, the bounding hero, the regularly-fainting heroine, and the castle of Udolpho itself, is enough to show why Jane Austen got so much fun out of it, too.

Word To Use Today: capricious. This is nice word meaning to leap unexpectedly from one thing to another is to do with hedgehogs and goats. It comes from the Italian capo, head, and riccio, hedgehog, a capriccio being a shudder that makes the hair stand on end. But the meaning has been affected by the Italian capra, which means goat.

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