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Secret Agents: Agency without Responsibility in The Mysteries of Udolpho.

EARLY IN ANN RADCLIFFE'S THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO (1794), THE novel's heroine, Emily St. Aubert, decides to leave the convent in which she has been staying since being orphaned by the death of her father. She considers taking the veil and remaining there, but is swayed from this inclination by her desire for Valancourt, a young man she met while travelling with her father: "It was the remembrance of Valancourt, of his taste, his genius, and of the countenance which glowed with both, that, perhaps, alone determined her to return to the world." (1) Her motive for departing the convent--the hope that Valancourt will become her husband--is directly stated, save for the narrator's "perhaps," which oddly refuses to commit to the causal relation. Radcliffe then backtracks further. After enumerating Emily's many reasons for liking Valancourt, she reminds readers that he has made no formal declaration and therefore qualifies that "even the hope of seeing him again was so distant, that she was scarcely conscious of it, still less that it influenced her conduct on this occasion" (89). The passage starts out with a seemingly straightforward instance of agency, in which interest motivates choice and choice prompts action: Emily wants to be with Valancourt, decides to leave the convent, and actually does so. (2) But the passage ends with something far muddier: Emily is "scarcely conscious" of her interest--"the hope of seeing him again"--and "still less" aware that her choice is informed by that interest. To be sure, a stronger statement of agency would hardly be proper. As Radcliffe subtly reminds us, a young lady could not show an active preference for a young man who had not declared his own affections without violating the bounds of decorum. Thus, Emily's almost unconscious chain of thought and action, which many would not call agency at all, is the most that is permitted. But practically speaking, it makes little difference whether her agency can be avowed as a clear progression from interest to choice to action: her desire is accomplished regardless. In fact, because her motive remains latent, Emily retains a certain freedom upon leaving the convent. She has not left to reunite with Valancourt; she has simply left. Her future actions are thus unencumbered by the constraints of a stated intention, an autonomy that later leaves her free to refuse Valancourt when the relationship no longer appears desirable.

I call attention to this conspicuously murky, subdued form of agency because locating agency has been a major problem for critics of the novel. Radcliffe often seems to portray Emily as helpless or ineffectual. Emily's subsequent engagement to Valancourt is thwarted when her aunt and guardian Madame Cheron (3) marries the sinister Montoni, who whisks them off to Italy, where he imprisons them both in the Gothic castle of Udolpho. Emily suffers there, until she is suddenly and effortlessly freed. Similarly, the many plots that have arisen throughout the novel--multiple murders apparently committed by Montoni, Valancourt's corruption in Paris, and the suspicion that Emily's father may have been an adulterer--are conveniently explained away or forgotten to make way for the novel's happy ending. In all of these instances, Emily seems to succeed without really trying. Accordingly, critics have contended either that Emily is passive (4) or that her actions are irrelevant to the plot. (5) In contrast, I argue that Emily is in fact always an agentive heroine, but that her agency in this novel is, as I have suggested, constantly fragmented. As Claudia L. Johnson writes, the legitimacy of female action and desire was conspicuously called into question during the early Romantic period of the 1790s. The maintenance of gender roles was highly politicized, and female virtue in particular was tied to "the development of tractable, forbearing, and caring political subjects" on which the survival of the nation was said to depend. Written in this milieu, Johnson suggests, Radcliffe's fiction shows progressive impulses straining against reactionary pressures, (6) so that the drive for female independence clashes with an investment in propriety. Given the potential transgressiveness of female agency, the ordinary cause-and-effect chain of interest-choice-action can never be straightforward. But rather than eschewing this chain, Radcliffe forges a subtle and fragmented version of it, one which allows Emily to exercise agency without responsibility, to act without being held accountable for her actions. (7) Indeed, she cannot be, because, in Radcliffe's carefully negotiated language and narrative, she did not want them, or did not choose them, or because they are so minimal as to hardly count as actions at all. These three iterations of fragmented agency, which I call agency without interest, agency without choice, and agency with minimal action, create a tenuous but meaningful arena for female agency.

Problems of Agency

Feminist criticism, however, frequently fails to account for such subtle forms of agency. Indeed, the critical difficulties surrounding female agency in The Mysteries of Udolpho are typical of a larger scholarly issue: the pervasiveness of all-or-nothing formulations of female agency, in which women's agency is either magnified as exemplary in terms of both impact and ideology or dismissed entirely. In her essay "The Temptations of Aggrandized Agency," Amanda Anderson helpfully diagnoses this problem and calls for new scholarship to rectify it. She criticizes earlier work by scholars such as Nancy Armstrong and Mary Poovey as alternating between determinism and "aggrandized agency" in their discussions of women. By characterizing the majority of Victorian women as unreflective instruments of modern power but granting some women, especially women writers, a practically omniscient view of their culture, they ignore the fact that women need be "neither unconsciously instrumental nor fully detached." (8) That is, Anderson argues that women can have meaningful insights into their culture while remaining within that culture, with its consequent restrictions on their viewpoint. (9)

Though Anderson's critique focuses on scholarship on the Victorians, it is also applicable to criticism about Romantic texts. For instance, Diane Long Hoeveler's Gothic Feminism, one of the most sustained accounts of female agency in the gothic novel, falls into the pattern Anderson describes even as it offers a number of compelling insights. Hoeveler argues that female gothic novelists created "professional femininity," a form of victim feminism in which women could stage weakness and passivity to gain power while ostensibly adhering to cultural norms. (10) While glorifying the women writers who she claims invented this emergent ideology, (11) Hoeveler alternates between portraying their gothic heroines as deliberately feigning passivity and as providing an unselfconscious example that female readers can more intentionally mimic. (12) The idea that the heroine either must be truly passive or masquerading as passive conforms to the kind of all-or-nothing presentations of agency I am critiquing. There is something in between passivity and detached performance: more subtle forms of agency that allow meaningful action within the confines of cultural dictates to women who are ideologically and emotionally invested in those dictates. The fragmented agency I discuss here is one such form. Emily is neither passive nor passive aggressive but instead genuinely believes in the codes of morality and decorum that she nonetheless successfully navigates and sometimes eludes.

In emphasizing how agency can coexist with investment in cultural norms, my approach differs from Anderson's, which seeks to reclaim a culturally situated model of agency by talking about the forms of detachment available to women in Victorian culture. (13) While it is certainly true that critical thinking was possible for the average woman and was one way for her to exercise agency, Anderson's preference for this form of detachment fails to address the ways in which women can be reflective and canny agents without rejecting or distancing themselves from cultural norms. Emily's agency appears to lack interest, choice, or action, but not because of a deliberate performance or deception on her part. She acts sincerely, following many dictates of her society. Nevertheless, she simultaneously acts as an effective agent.

My analysis weds Romantic studies' interest in how female authors of the era challenged ideology (14) with more recent scholarship on Romanticism, such as Anne-Lise Francois's book Open Secrets, that traces subdued modes of agency and action in the period. (15) These alternative modes of thinking about agency both function as a reaction to the violent activity of the French Revolution (16) and offer a release from the weight of ethical responsibility and personhood. (17) My work, however, differs from these critical accounts by emphasizing how subdued agency has unique potential for women, offering them a means of resistance. For Emily, fragmented agency does not merely release her from responsibility but actually enables her to evade restrictions on female action and the expression of emotion.

Agency without Interest

Emily's fragmented agency manifests first as the illusion of agency without interest. Because she appears to be acting contrary to her own self-interest, her actions seem pitiable rather than selfish and unfeeling. This effect stems from Emily's genuinely divided interests: her emotions truly militate against rational action. Nevertheless, she is in fact acting according to her own best interest; perhaps not doing what she wants, but doing what she needs. The term "agency without interest" is thus somewhat misleading, but the text itself misleads readers in precisely this way by suggesting that Emily's self-interest--actually merely conflicted--is completely at odds with her choices and actions. For example, Emily repeatedly stands up to her tyrannical guardians, defying their will, but then bursts into tears or suffers other physical symptoms that allow her to remain sympathetic despite her rebellious action. When her aunt accuses of her of impropriety in seeing her lover Valancourt while alone at her father's home, we read that
Emily checked the tears, that trembled in her eyes, while she said,
"When my conduct shall deserve this severity, madam, you will do well
to exercise it; till then justice, if not tenderness, should surely
restrain it. I have never willingly offended you; now I have lost my
parents, you are the only person to whom I can look for kindness. Let
me not lament more than ever the loss of such parents." The last words
were almost stifled by her emotions, and she burst into tears. (112)

What is actually a stern reproof from Emily is framed by allusions to her tears, which mollify the strength of her statement and remind us that she is to be pitied rather than blamed. Speech here may seem like a minimal kind of chosen action to evidence agency, but it is under threat and is an action that matters. Elsewhere tears enable more dramatic resolutions and meet with a far more positive response from other characters. When Valancourt urges Emily to elope after Montoni forbids their union and plans to separate the two by moving to Italy, he initially reacts to her prudence in refusing by claiming that she does not love him. However, Emily gives him verbal assurances until "the last words faltered on her lips, and her tears flowed fast. These words and tears brought, once more, and with instantaneous force, conviction of her love to Valancourt" (158). Crying signifies Emily's real distress, which otherwise could only be articulated as indecorous complaint. But more importantly, it marks her as sensible and thus feminine, allowing her to stick to her resolution by indicating that the resolution is contrary to her desire. Similar scenes between the two of them occur elsewhere in the novel, (18) and in all of them Emily manages to send two messages at once: she will do the smart thing, but it is against her emotional inclinations, which give her great pain. Her chosen action is achieved through demonstrations that it is opposed to her emotional interest.

Emily can also exercise agency without interest by acting for others' interests rather than her own. As Patricia Meyer Spacks writes, "by considering herself obligated to others, she is empowered to act for herself. Much of what happens in The Mysteries of Udolpho happens because of Emily's benevolent concern." (19) She can thus hide potentially transgressive desires from others and from herself by locating the impetus for action in other people. We see such justification over and over in Udolpho: when she finds the courage to wander in the woods alone by remembering that she is seeking help for her ailing father, when she consorts with ruffians and sneaks around the castle in the middle of the night in her search for her imprisoned aunt, when she fights to keep her estates so that her wealth can go to Valancourt.

Concern for others also appears in subtler ways. Early in the novel, when she is still safe at home and the curiosity that is warranted in the overtly hostile environment of Udolpho is thus less acceptable, she snoops on her father in the middle of the night by citing her concern for his well-being: "Emily believed her father to be in the closet, and, surprised that he was up at so late an hour, apprehended he was unwell, and was going to enquire; but, considering that her sudden appearance at this hour might alarm him, she removed her light to the stair-case, and then stepped softly to the closet" (26). This explanation is dubious; light would make her approach less startling than sneaking up in the dark. But that is the unjust suspicion of a Madame Montoni, and we are not encouraged to read this way. Emily's actions may look like spying, but, crucially, that is not her intention. Next, having established that he is weeping rather than ill, we are told that "She could not witness his sorrow, without being anxious to know the subject of it; and she therefore continued to observe him in silence" (26). She is only curious, Radcliffe claims, because she cares. When he gets up, Emily "hastily" starts to leave, "but she saw him turn again to the papers, and she stopped" (26). By this point her observation is getting hard to explain, so, after allowing her to witness her father weeping over a mysterious lady's portrait, Radcliffe invokes the trope of unconsciousness: "Emily, recollecting that she was intruding upon his private sorrows, softly withdrew from the chamber" (26). Of course, she is unaware until that point that she is being intrusive, and as soon as she realizes she behaves correctly. As soon as she realizes--and as soon as there is nothing more to see. On her father's behalf, she has acted in a manner decidedly contrary to his wishes expressed elsewhere but--one suspects--very much according to what her own might have been. But she thinks only of her father, never of herself, so we cannot blame her. She denies her own desire and motivation, and her self-abnegation paradoxically affords her freedom. Emily thus can exercise agency because Radcliffe suggests that the motivating interest is nonexistent--that she acts contrary to her desires--or that she is acting to achieve the interests of others.

Agency without Choice

Emily's not-quite spying on her father also suggests a second type of fragmented agency, one in which it is not interest that is occluded, but choice. At the end of the scene, when Emily "recollect[s]" that she is intruding, the suggestion is less that she does not desire to do so and more that it is an accident, something done unawares rather than intentionally. Indeed, throughout the novel accidents and coincidences prevent explicit choice and thus enable Emily's behaviors. (20) For instance, when she attempts to follow her recently deceased father's instructions to burn his papers without reading them, she suffers an attack of fear and faintness and then "turned to the papers, though still with so little recollection, that her eyes involuntarily settled on the writing of some loose sheets, which lay open; and she was unconscious, that she was transgressing her father's strict injunction, till a sentence of dreadful import awakened her attention and her memory together" (103). As Radcliffe's words indicate, the act is a transgression, but it is one of which she is unconscious, committed involuntarily. There are indications that she desires to look; Emily's curiosity has already been aroused by seeing her father weeping over the mysterious woman's portrait, an act that suggests he has been unfaithful to her mother, and she immediately questions her father's injunction upon receiving it. Certainly after looking she can scarcely restrain herself from continuing, "urged by the most forcible, and apparently the most necessary, curiosity to enquire farther" (103). Thus, neither interest nor action is lacking, but crucially, choice is.

Similarly, Emily never makes deliberate choices to rendezvous with Valancourt: every meeting occurs fortuitously. In these instances of agency without choice, Emily's agency is heightened by being a character in a novel, since Radcliffe's plotting makes choice unnecessary. For instance, one night at Tholouse, Emily suffers from a headache, which "determined her to try whether exercise and the open air would not relieve the intense pain that bound her temples" (151). This pain drives her outside in the middle of the night, and her lover is opportunely waiting. Though Radcliffe presents the encounter as legitimately accidental, no wonder Madame Montoni is suspicious. Likewise, Emily's initial meeting with Valancourt at the fishing house at La Vallee occurs when chance neatly dovetails with illicit desire. Emily knows that the fishing house is haunted by an admirer (whom she believes to be Valancourt) and earlier has "secretly determin[ed]... never again to visit the fishing-house without Monsieur or Madame St. Aubert" (11). (21) Conveniently (yet genuinely) forgetting this self-imposed restriction, she returns and immediately meets with her beau. Thus, because choice has been taken out of the equation, Emily achieves agency without responsibility. She could not have seen the letters or Valancourt without doing something, and the result is exactly as she might have wished. Nevertheless, she has not chosen for these things to happen, and thus cannot be culpable.

Furthermore, as we have seen, both agency without interest and agency without choice often hinge on the involuntary actions of Emily's body, such as crying, faintness, and headaches. Emily's body also enables agency without choice to allow her to bypass constraints on sensibility. (22) As Johnson argues, the imperative to avoid excessive emotion does not necessarily protect Emily but is actually a disempowering social restraint, since only women are required to quash their feelings in favor of reason. (23) Unlike their male counterparts, proper women are not allowed to complain. However, although Emily cannot speak about her suffering, she can effectively demonstrate it through her body in the crying and faintness that so often beset her. Daniel Cottom describes this phenomenon as the "speaking body," which he argues is "the result of an otherwise insurmountable conflict between the desire for expression and the fear of impropriety." (24) Because bodily actions seem involuntary, they are not subject to the rules of propriety and can thus "speak" nontransgressively. (25) Cottom discusses the speaking body specifically in terms of fainting and therefore makes the negative claim that "all important communications involving desire must take place in the mode of the unconscious." (26) However, the speaking body can also be a conscious, if silent and involuntary, means of conveying emotion. Through her speaking body, Emily can reclaim a conventionally feminine posture. Instead of being restricted by its conventionality, however, she can use it to escape constraints on her ability to express emotion. For example, Emily must remain measured in her articulated grief but is much freer to cry. Indeed, Madame Montoni rarely sounds more unjust than when she berates Emily, "For, though you say nothing, you cannot conceal your grief from my penetration. I can see you are ready to cry at this moment, though I am reproving you for it; aye, even now, in spite of my commands" (150). In the logic of Radcliffe's narrative, Emily may be required to say nothing, but she cannot be expected to control her body. Her lack of choice thus creates a much-needed outlet for emotion.

Agency with Minimal Action

The third form of fragmented agency, agency with minimal action, has posed the greatest challenge to critics, who, as already noted, have seen the apparent lack of significant action and change in the novel as evidence of its conservatism and as a stymie to the agency of its characters. This lack seems most pronounced in Radcliffe's ending, which attempts to assert that there was never a problem to act upon: Montoni's power ends with a whimper, Laurentini--a former resident of Udolpho whom Emily believes Montoni killed--is a murderer rather than a victim, and St. Aubert is a faithful husband: the mysterious woman is only his sister. No clear solution is offered to the issues of male violence and the suppression of women's suffering that Radcliffe has raised; they simply melt away. Indeed, the conclusion at first seems to be an extreme manifestation of D. A. Miller's formulation of how closure abolishes the narratable, the disruptive and suspenseful elements that have driven the story: "Hesitation is matched by decision; nonobjectal desire by object choice; the cultivation of suspense by the culmen of moral judgment; irony by knowledge; chatter by an elsewhere of serious revelations; the course of social circumstance by the resolution of a marriage plot." (27) Udolpho, one might say, ends not only with a correction of the narratable but with a denial of its very existence.

Thus, the problem with Udolpho, most critics argue, is that nothing happens; no meaningful action is possible. However, Emily does act, just in understated, minimal ways, and the suggestion that she does not--much like the suggestions that she lacks interest and choice--is precisely what enables her agency. Francois offers a framework for this reading in Open Secrets, which examines Romantic-era works similar to Udolpho in which "nothing happens." She argues that such texts are not just about passivity, waste, and denial but that instead they offer their characters a way out from overwhelming responsibility, "permit[ting] a release from the ethical imperative to act upon knowledge." Characters do not have to act upon their knowledge because these texts "locate fulfillment not in narrative fruition but in grace, understood both as a simplicity or slightness of formal means and as a freedom from work, including both the work of self-concealment and self-presentation." This grace and freedom from work, however, do not imply a lack of action; instead, the novels Francois describes contain actions that are "weightless, minimally assertive, nonemphatic." (28) I argue that the possibility of such minimal actions creates breathing room, not just for the ethical subject in general, as Francois contends, but specifically for women like Emily whose actions are so restricted by their potential for transgressiveness. Through minimal actions, she is released not just from the responsibility to act but also from being held responsible for the actions she desires to do.

Agency with minimal action thus allows Emily both to act in ways she otherwise could not, pushing back on restrictions on her behavior, and to remain remarkably exempt from the moral judgments that usher in closure. Unlike deeds in narratives like those described by Miller, in which the heroine must prove her worth or, if found lacking, reform, Emily's actions leave no trace upon the world of the novel and cannot be evaluated. Critics like Ian Duncan, Diane Long Hoeveler, and David Durant argue that the ending comes, in Durant's words, as "a providential reward for the heroine's goodness," (29) but any link between her actions and the ending is tenuous at best. As Eugenia C. DeLamotte writes, "Decked out in the whole armor of God, Radcliffe's heroines are hurried off the battlefield. Who would have won? The sentimental Gothicists avoid a direct answer." (30) Though DeLamotte goes on to argue that the lack of trials suggests the heroines' helplessness, it actually releases them from the responsibility to prove themselves and to submit to external judgment. To use Francois's terminology, the ending evidences not judgment or causality but grace, the freedom from moral effort and responsibility.

In fact, we see this freedom produced by agency with minimal action long before the ending. Many of the actions already discussed are small but significant, like rebuking Madame Montoni or simply watching her father. Furthermore, working in tandem with the speaking body, Radcliffe's narration communicates Emily's feelings without the need for any action on her part. This strategy for decorously conveying emotion accords closely with Francois's description of the function of free indirect style:
free indirect style is said to relieve characters from the work of
self-representation--from the burden, as Frances Ferguson has recently
put it, both of having "thoughts that rise to the level of the
expressible" ("The Impact of Form," 167) (as characters in a play must)
and of constantly reporting on themselves (as the perpetually writing
protagonists of epistolary novels do). It frees characters, in other
words, first from the work of speaking for themselves, giving accounts,
and making themselves legible to others... and then from the no less
onerous burden of having to signal "deep" or unfathomable emotion. (31)

Radcliffe's narration, though more distant than free indirect style, relieves Emily from the work of self-representation. This aid is uniquely crucial for Emily, who suffers not from the burden of making herself legible or signaling deep feelings but from the pressure not to express feelings at all, lest she become a repugnant complainer. Through Radcliffe's narration, Emily's suffering is clear to the reader, but Emily herself never has to claim it. (32)

Perhaps the most important examples of agency with minimal action prior to the ending appear in the novel's two most famous scenes, in which Emily pulls back veils to reveal two different bodies, which she believes are the corpses of Laurentini and Madame Montoni, respectively. In both cases, she is actively seeking a solution to mysteries but, immediately after the revelation, faints. When she sees the latter body, for instance, "Emily, bending over the body, gazed, for a moment, with an eager, frenzied eye; but, in the next, the lamp dropped from her hand, and she fell senseless at the foot of the couch" (348). This dramatic scene may not seem like a minimal action, especially for readers left in suspense as to what Emily has seen. Yet she has simply lifted a veil, no more. As Robert Miles points out, fainting in these scenes protects Emily from transgression and minimizes her prior act of discovery. (33) Her unconsciousness also lifts the weight of narrative responsibility. Francois describes her narratives as giving "the sense not that critical work is unnecessary but that no one will be at fault if the mystery remains unmastered," (34) and Radcliffe takes advantage of that here. Emily can demonstrate her control of the gaze, her almost manic desire to see, but she has no obligation to follow through. Radcliffe later comments that had she looked again she would have recognized that the figure is made of wax but also notes that "On such an object, it will be readily believed, that no person could endure to look twice" (662). Of course, the former Marquis of Udolpho who created the figure as a penance looked on it many times, but Emily is not condemned to the same. Having experienced curiosity as a form of interest, chosen to investigate, and acted by taking a peek, she has already demonstrated her agency and is free to look away.

Through her minimal actions, Emily is doubly released from responsibility: both the responsibility for what she has done and the responsibility to do something more. This pattern continues at the end of the novel, where Emily maintains her liberating association with the narratable. Discussing Jane Austen, Miller argues that "Common to all the heroines is a mania for explanation, an imperious desire for settled answers, which will stabilize and fix their response to experience." (35) Only bad characters, he claims, continue to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. However, Radcliffe's ending offers no judgment precisely because it requires no decisive action of Emily. She is free from any responsibility to deal with the larger issues she has raised, free even from the knowledge of the solutions to some of the mysteries. She never discovers what is behind the veil, and it is unclear how much she really learns about Laurentini, since Radcliffe omits her actual conversation with the Abbess, writing that "the narrative of the abbess was, however, deficient in many particulars, of which the reader may wish to be informed" (655). Though closure does necessitate rational explanation in the text, Emily herself is under no compulsion to relieve uncertainty.

In fact, so great is the release from responsibility at the end that Emily does not even have to choose between her two suitors. Radcliffe sets up a love triangle when Valancourt appears to be corrupted, and another man, Du Pont, rescues Emily from Udolpho. But when Valancourt is redeemed, Du Pont assumes the burden of renunciation, taking what in this novel is usually a woman's part. No longer complaining or even speaking, he sacrifices his happiness for Emily's and silently departs from Chateau-le-Blanc and from the novel. He thus allows Emily to marry his rival blamelessly, and effortlessly. Significantly, Emily and Valancourt (along with readers and critics) hardly notice. Though Du Pont acts conclusively in a way that no one else does, he does not steal credit for the ending. His participation (and that of others like the Venetian Senate, which arrests and imprisons Montoni) is occluded to allow Emily her gift of grace. Her agency thus remains unencumbered.

Imaginative Possibilities

Thus, Emily can exercise agency without becoming culpable or transgressive because her agency never manifests completely: interest, choice, or action is always actually or apparently lacking. Despite these gaps, her agency is always meaningful: she evades restrictions on both her actions and emotions and achieves her desires. Expanding our understanding of agency to account for these fragmented forms allows us to be more attentive to Emily specifically but also to the many ways in which female characters in general who do not have total self-determination have some wiggle room nonetheless and can even push back on oppressive restrictions. In fact, as we have seen, fragmented agency is not only a form of compromise but can actually be a positive good, giving the women who exercise it special freedoms not available to more traditionally agential characters.

Furthermore, the hidden nature of such female agency does not make it quietist. The strategies that enable Emily's actions may be difficult to see, but the larger problems that necessitate them are not. In fact, the same lack of conclusive action that offers Emily freedom also allows the problem of female suffering to remain potent. Francois suggests that we can "measur[e] difference not by what an action materially produces but by the imaginative possibilities revelation may either open or eclipse," (36) and indeed the bodies Emily uncovers in these scenes create new possibilities for the expression of female suffering. Emily sees three different male bodies but misidentifies all three as female: the figure behind the veil, the corpse that she believes to be her aunt's, and the figure in the bed at Chateau-le-Blanc. Johnson writes that the gender swap reflects how the novel attempts "to erase all of these stories of suffering women, and to refigure them instead as stories about men," which thus "denies that these women are being injured in the first place, and figures their sensitivity as culpable, our sympathy as misplaced, the novel as misread." (37) However, we can also read the message in reverse: any body, including one sexed as male, can be used to represent the suffering female body that the characters around her try to suppress or hide. Though the bodies that Emily sees are not actually female, and the real corpses of women--of Emily's mother, of the Marchioness, of Madame Montoni only a little while later, and eventually even Laurentini's--never appear, they still work as imaginative projections of Emily's suffering, ways for Emily to convey her pain without the damning complaining of Madame Montoni or the Countess. All bodies are Emily's body as she fears it might be: a dead body. By seeing this fatal possibility everywhere and then allowing it to linger by forgoing further investigation, Emily makes her vulnerability as a woman visible.

The ending sustains this visibility. Although the conclusion minimizes the female suffering so rampant in Udolpho and certainly does nothing to alleviate it, it does not expunge it. For example, though we discover that Emily has been mistaken about the object behind the veil, Radcliffe confirms that Emily is essentially right in her fears about Montoni: "This image was so horribly natural, that it is not surprising Emily should have mistaken it for the object it resembled, nor, since she had heard such an extraordinary account, concerning the disappearing of the late lady of the castle, and had such experience of the character of Montoni, that she should have believed this to be the murdered body of the lady Laurentini, and that he had been the contriver of her death" (663). Not only external circumstances but also Montoni's actual character suggest the idea and maintain it despite Emily's doubts. He may not be a murderer, Radcliffe suggests, but he is certainly a source of pain for women, a verdict that validates female suffering. Moreover, that suffering coexists with Emily's concluding happiness, surviving as one of the novel's many unnoticed contradictions. Emily and Valancourt spend their days in a decidedly melancholic tone, mingling happiness and mourning: "now the remembrance of the anxiety he had then suffered, and the retrospect of all the dangers and misfortunes they had each encountered... exalted the sense of their present felicity" (671). Though only Valancourt can take ownership of the anxiety and all pain is distanced by time, Emily's suffering is no longer either forgotten or burdensome. Instead, it is weightless, its recollection almost a pleasure, quietly mingling with her present contentment. Her agency is safely obscure, but her sorrow no longer has to be.

Princeton University


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Markovits, Stefanie. The Crisis of Action in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006.

Mellor, Anne Kostelanetz. Romanticism and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Miles, Robert. Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

--. Gothic Writing 1750-1820. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Miller, D. A. Narrative and Its Discontents: Problems of Closure in the Traditional Novel. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Napier, Elizabeth R. The Failure of Gothic. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Nichols, Nina da Vinci. "Place and Eros in Radcliffe, Lewis, and Bronte." In The Female Gothic, edited by Juliann E. Fleenor, 187-206. Montreal: Eden Press, 1983.

Poovey, Mary. "Ideology and The Mysteries of Udolpho." Criticism 21, no. 4 (1979): 307-30.

--. Uneven Developments. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Punter, David. The Literature of Terror. New York: Longman, 1980.

Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Edited by Bonamy Dobree. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Russett, Margaret. "Narrative as Enchantment in The Mysteries of Udolpho." ELH 65, no. 1 (1998): 159-86.

Shapira, Yael. "Where the Bodies Are Hidden: Ann Radcliffe's 'Delicate Gothic.'" Eighteenth Century Fiction 18, no. 4 (2006): 453-76. doi: 10.1353/ecf.2006.0068.

Smith, Nelson C. "Sense, Sensibility, and Ann Radcliffe." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 13, no. 4 (1973): 577-90.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Desire and Truth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Todd, Janet. The Sign of Angellica. London: Virago Press, 1989.

(1.) Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, ed. Bonamy Dobree (1794; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 89. All references are to this edition, subsequently quoted in the text.

(2.) I draw this definition of agency from Jane Elliot, "Suffering Agency: Imagining Neoliberal Personhood in North America and Britain," Social Text 31, no. 2 (2013): 88-89, doi: 10.1215/01642472-2081139.

(3.) Hereafter referred to by her married name of Madame Montoni.

(4.) See Robert Miles, Gothic Writing 1750-1820 (New York: Routledge, 1993); Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998); Elizabeth R. Napier, The Failure of Gothic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987); Ian Duncan, Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); and Angela Keane, Women Writers and the English Nation in the 1790s: Romantic Belongings (Port Chester, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001), ProQuest ebrary.

(5.) Critics typically conclude that Emily's actions are irrelevant for one of three reasons. One, they view Emily as acting only in response to the irrational creations of her own mind. Two, they claim that the conservative ending, which suggests that there was never any need for action, shuts down agential possibilities raised earlier in the novel. Or three, they consider her agency insignificant because it is so often expressed in the realm of the unconscious or the supernatural. For the first, see David Punter, The Literature of Terror (New York: Longman, 1980); April London. "Ann Radcliffe in Context: Marking the Boundaries of The Mysteries of Udolpho," Eighteenth-Century Life 10, no. 1 (1986): 35-47; Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972); Margaret Russett, "Narrative as Enchantment in The Mysteries of Udolpho," ELH 65, no. 1 (1998): 159-86; and Robert F. Geary, The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992). For the second, see Mary Poovey, "Ideology and The Mysteries of Udolpho," Criticism 21, no. 4 (1979): 307; Patricia Meyer Spacks, Desire and Truth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); Claudia L. Johnson, Equivocal Beings (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); and Robert Miles, Ann Radcliffe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995). For the third, see Nina da Vinci Nichols, "Place and Eros in Radcliffe, Lewis, and Bronte," in The Female Gothic, ed. Juliann E. Fleenor (Montreal: Eden Press, 1983), 187-206; Janet Todd, The Sign of Angellica (London: Virago Press, 1989); and Daniel Cottom, The Civilized Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

(6.) Johnson, Equivocal Beings, 9, 16.

(7.) A few critics have briefly commented on the value of freedom from responsibility, but never in a sustained way. Gillian Beer, for instance, writes that "The unawakened state of Gothic heroines allows them to stir up trouble and to be absolved from responsibility for it," in "'Our unnatural No-voice': The Heroic Epistle, Pope, and Women's Gothic," The Yearbook of English Studies 12 (1982): 151; Patricia Meyer Spacks mentions Emily's "wish to avoid the burden of independent moral responsibility" (Desire and Truth, 172). Similarly, Kate Ferguson Ellis writes that Radcliffe heroines "open[] the sphere of virtuous endeavour but without appearing to do so," though her reading is overly optimistic about the possibility of female empowerment in Radcliffe. See The Contested Castle (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 100.

(8.) Anderson, The Way We Argue Now (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 58.

(9.) This is not to suggest that "culture" or "ideology" can be taken as monolithic terms; Anderson is working on Poovey's foundation of a constantly unstable and conflicted ideology characterized by "uneven developments." See Poovey, Uneven Developments (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

(10.) Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism, xv, 7.

(11.) For instance, Hoeveler describes these female authors as "attempt[ing] nothing less than a redefinition of sexuality and power in a gendered, patriarchal society," though she does acknowledge limits on the effectiveness of the attempt (Gothic Feminism, 19).

(12.) In her account of The Mysteries of Udolpho, Hoeveler goes into surprisingly little detail about the mechanics of Emily's professional feminism or its degree of intentionality, focusing instead on the larger plot in which Emily's exemplary passivity is rewarded (Gothic Feminism, 85-102).

(13.) Amanda Anderson, The Powers of Distance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

(14.) A subject of interest introduced by Anne Mellor in Romanticism and Gender (New York: Routledge, 1993), and more recently taken up in Studies in Romanticism's special issue "New Directions in Romanticism and Gender," ed. Noah Comet and Susan J. Woltson (53, no. 4 [2014]).

(15.) Francois, Open Secrets (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008). Also see Jacques Khahp, Anonymous Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); and Stefanie Markovits, The Crisis of Action in Nineteenth-Century English Literature (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006).

(16.) See Francois, Open Secrets, xxiii; Markovits, The Crisis of Action, 11-46. In fact, as Francois points out, a turn away from overt action is, in many critical accounts, a defining characteristic of Romanticism.

(17.) See Francois, Open Secrets, 3; Khalip, Anonymous Life, 4-5.

(18.) When she refuses to let him see Montoni and when, much later, she breaks off their engagement due to reports of his depravity (146, 513).

(19.) Spacks, Desire and Truth, 157.

(20.) Ellis alludes to this strategy in her discussion of the importance of Emily not having too much initiative, a requirement often fulfilled by the motif of "wandering" as opposed to purposeful movement (The Contested Castle, 105).

(21.) Already in this early passage we can see the language of the involuntary taking over, as she is "irresistibly restrained" from telling her parents about the admirer (11).

(22.) A topic discussed by numerous critics. For instance, see Fred Botting, Gothic (New York: Routledge, 1096); Gary Kelly, English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830 (London: Longman, 1989); Sandro Jung, "Sensibility, the Servant, and Comedy in Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho," Gothic Studies 12, no. 1 (2010): 1-12, doi: 10.7227/GS. 12.1.2; Nelson C. Smith, "Sense, Sensibility, and Ann Radcliffe," Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 13, no. 4 (1973): 577-90; and Donna Heiland, Gothic and Gender: An Introduction (Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2004).

(23.) Johnson, Equivocal Beings, 97.

(24.) Cottom, The Civilized Imagination, 53.

(25.) In turn, as Yael Shapira points out, the role of corporeality in conveying sensibility legitimizes the depiction of the female body in the novel. See "Where the Bodies Are Hidden: Ann Radcliffe's 'Delicate Gothic,'" Eighteenth-Century Fiction 18, no. 4 (2006): 465, doi: 10.1353/ecf.2006.0068.

(26.) Cottom, The Civilized Imagination, 54.

(27.) Miller, Narrative and Its Discontents: Problems of Closure in the Traditional Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 44.

(28.) Francois, Open Secrets, 3, xvi, 60.

(29.) Durant, "Ann Radcliffe and the Conservative Gothic," Studies in English Literature, 1500-10.00 22, no. 3 (1982): 525.

(30.) DeLamotte, Perils of the Night: A Feminist Study of Nineteenth-Century Gothic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 34, Proquest ebrary.

(31.) Francois, Open Secrets, 14.

(32.) As Ingrid Horrocks argues, this effect is also achieved through Radcliffe's use of quotation and poetry, which allow Emily to appropriate others' voices, thus giving her "someone else on whom [she] can project the expression of [her] feelings." See '"Her Ideas Arranged Themselves': Re-Membering Poetry in Radcliffe," SiR 47, no. 4 (2008): 519.

(33.) Miles, Ann Radcliffe, 141.

(34.) Francois, Open Secrets, 11.

(35.) Miller, Narrative and Its Discontents, 51.

(36.) Francois, Open Secrets, 21.

(37.) Johnson, Equivocal Beings, 113, 102.
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Date:Dec 22, 2018
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