Boundaries, Symmetry and Continuity in Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho

Boundaries, Symmetry and Continuity in Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho

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Below is a passage from I.2 of Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho concerning the concept of "precepts" in relation to the characters of St. Aubert and his daughter Emily:

I have attempted to teach you from your earliest youth, the duty of self- command […] not only as it preserves us from the various and dangerous temptations that call us from rectitude and virtue, but as it limits the indulgences which are termed virtuous, yet which, extended beyond a certain boundary are vicious…All excess is vicious; even that sorrow, which is amiable in its origin, becomes a selfish and unjust passion, if indulged at the expense of our duties. […] The indulgence of excessive grief enervates the mind, and almost incapacitates it for again partaking of those various innocent enjoyments which a benevolent God designed to be the sun-shine of our lives. My dear Emily, recollect and practice the precepts I have so often given you […]. (20)

The kinds of "precepts" instilled by St. Aubert are those that enjoin such "virtues" as moderation, simplicity, circumspection, and respect (5). Throughout the above passage and in her initial chapter, Radcliffe is establishing several binaries through which the novel as a whole can be mapped, and retirement in the country versus involvement in "the world" (1, 4), economy versus dissipation (2), simplicity versus exaggeration, serenity with congeniality versus tumult with incongruity (4), happiness and misery (4-5), affection versus ambition (11), health versus disease (physical and emotional [8, 18]), and life versus death, are only a few ways in which to articulate them. However, in the end, one binary can serve to organize the many: symmetry versus deformity. And it is in apprehending the logic of h...


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...s dissatisfied with is the extent of Quesnel's "improvements," for the enlargemenmt of which Quesnel boasts is characterized by excess. (It is to be noted that, when improving his own house, St. Aubert adapted his enlargements "to the style of the old one" [2]). Thus, as an exploration of the importance of boundaries, and of the symmetry and continuity that those boundaries give, Radcliffe's novel enters into the discourse of its decade.


Works Cited

Burke, Edmund. "Proportion Further Considered". A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909-1917 (New York: Bartleby.com, 2001). http://www.bartleby.com/24/2/305.html

Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

Radcliffe, Anne. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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