What in the world is going on here? I thought Gulliver’s Travels was all about tiny people and giants, but no, Jonathan Swift’s imagination is extraordinary to say the least. Lemuel Gulliver recalls the zaniest adventures as he travels first as a ships surgeon and then as Captain to Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and to the Houyhnhnms. A companionable chap he narrates it all in a jolly, matter of fact, chatty way, that is bawdy, crude, ridiculous and sometimes very funny.
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In January I read The Mysteries of Udolpho for the Classics Club Chunkster Spin – it was a great way to start the year!
Emily St Aubert is a young women leading an idyllic life with her parents at their estate in France. Her time is spent walking through the lush countryside playing her lute singing and taking delight in the natural world around her. When her mother dies, she and her father travel through France taking comfort in each others company and the beauty of the landscape. They meet a young soldier, Valencourt who is smitten with Emily and has the approval of Monsieur St Aubert since he too, sings, writes poetry, plays the lute and clearly has never been to Paris! This is a black and white world where the city means shallow and wicked and the countryside spiritual happiness. Indeed,the countryside is almost its own character since everything trembles – lips, leaves, voices, moonlight, hearts – all the natural world and the good people in it.
But suddenly orphaned, Emily’s life takes a turn. Taken into the care of her aunt (who has been to and loved Paris!) and her villainous step-uncle, Signor Montoni, she is taken to Italy – to the castle of Udolpho. And there the adventures begin. A creepy old castle of ‘mouldering stones and heavy buttresses’, there are hidden staircases, subterranean dungeons and labyrinthine passages, strange noises and cries, horrible shapes beneath sheets and a beautiful, melancholy voice that sings in the middle of the night. Imprisoned and with the prospect of being sold in marriage, there were moments of very fast page turning and gasping on my part! My Penguin edition had 638 pages and still at page 574 new horrors were being unmasked! Continue reading “The Mysteries of Udolpho” →