The Mysteries of Udolpho is a quintessential Gothic romance, replete with incidents of physical and psychological terror; remote, crumbling castles; seemingly supernatural events; a brooding, scheming villain; and a persecuted heroine. Radcliffe also added extensive descriptions of exotic landscapes in the Pyrenees and Apennines. Set in 1584 in southern France and northern Italy, the novel focuses on the plight of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman who is orphaned after the death of her father. Emily suffers imprisonment in the castle Udolpho at the hands of Signor Montoni, an Italian brigand who has married her aunt and guardian Madame Cheron..
Ann Radcliffe (9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823) was an English author, and a pioneer of the Gothic novel. Her style is romantic in its vivid descriptions of landscapes, and long travel scenes, yet the Gothic element is obvious through her use of the supernatural. It was her technique of explained Gothicism, the final revelation of inexplicable phenomena, that helped the Gothic novel achieve respectability in the 1790s. Ann Radcliffe was the most popular writer of her day and almost universally admired. Contemporary critics called her the mighty enchantress and the Shakespeare of romance-writers. Her popularity continued through the nineteenth century; for Keats, she was Mother Radcliffe, and for Scott, the first poetess of romantic fiction. Radcliffe created the novel of suspense by combining the Gothic romance of Walpole with the novel of sensibility, which focused on the proper, tender heroine and emphasized the love interest.
Several Gothic novels are mentioned in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, including most importantly The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Austen also satirizes Clermont, a Gothic novel by Regina Maria Roche. This last is included in a list of seven somewhat obscure Gothic works, known as the 'Northanger horrid novels' as recommended by Isabella Thorpe to Catherine Morland:
“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
The Gentleman's Magazine, September 1794 — The former work (The Romance of The Forest) of this lady had raised the attention of the public to her abilities, of which the present has by no means lessened their opinion. We trust, however, we shall not be thought unkind or severe if we object to the too great frequency of landscape-painting; which, though it shows the extensiveness of her observation and invention, wearies the reader with repetitions. The plot is admirably kept up; but perhaps the reader is held too long in suspense, and the development brought on too hastily in the concluding volume.