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5 - Musical Listening in The Mysteries of Udolpho

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2013

Noelle Chao
Affiliation:
The Ohio State University
Phyllis Weliver
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of English, Saint Louis University
Katharine Ellis
Affiliation:
Stanley Hugh Badock Professor of Music at the University of Bristol
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Summary

Ann Radcliffe rose to prominence during the 1790s, when a string of best-sellers established her as England's most commercially successful writer and as the chief practitioner of the Gothic style. While stock elements such as mouldering castles, rapacious villains and mangled corpses are liberally scattered throughout her works, her demystification of other-worldly elements – known as the ‘explained supernatural’ – and her penchant for creating stunning, phantasmagoric spectacles are typically thought of today as the most notable features of her Gothic signature. However, there is one hallmark of Radcliffe's Gothic that has managed to escape notice: her attention to sound and music. In her novels, characters are musical listeners as well as performers, and they inhabit worlds organized and defined by sound, in which music is much more than the polite diversion found in much late eighteenth-century fiction. Indeed, unlike other novelists from the 1790s, such as Elizabeth Inchbald and William Godwin, who relegated music to the realm of domestic accomplishments, Radcliffe presents music and sound as vital components of her characters' sensory experiences. No other fiction writer from this period assigned music such a significant and diverse role; nor did any other attend so minutely to the practice of describing sounds. For these reasons, Radcliffe deserves to be considered as the first English novelist to develop and sustain a narrative practice of conjuring sonic, musical environments in fiction.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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