The Tempered Text: Three Roads to Udolpho


by Harry Heuser


Among Terrorists and Theorists


As one of today's curious wanderers in the darksome woods of the Gothic, I often find myself confronted with Procrustean critics eager to demonstrate their theoretical equipment; indeed, some of the groans that add to The Mysteries of Udolpho may well have been uttered in anticipation of such violent treatments.  While critics, the present-day highwaymen and women of literature, commonly branch out and attack passages congenial to their designs (and Radcliffe's novel is held to be long and luxurious enough to sustain—to support and withstand—such diverse approaches), I have managed to lure three theoreticians, a reader-response critic, a feminist, and a favorer of deconstruction into the following:


Emily sought to lose the sense of her own cares, in the visionary scenes of the poet; but she had again to lament the irresistible force of circumstances over the taste and powers of the mind; and that it requires a spirit at ease to be sensible even to the abstract pleasures of pure intellect.  The enthusiasm of genius, with all its pictured scenes, now appeared cold, and dim.  As she mused upon the book before her, she involuntarily exclaimed, “Are these, indeed, the passages, that have so often given me exquisite delight? Where did the charm exist?—Was it in my mind, or in the imagination of the poet? It lived in each,” said she, pausing.  “But the fire of the poet is vain, if the mind of his reader is

not tempered like his own, however it may be inferior to his in power.”  (Radcliffe 383)


Here, fellow travelers, are the responses these lines inspired.


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