Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Peter Walmsley




This study is a sustained exploration of Ann Radcliffe's engagement with art and aesthetics in her most lengthy novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho. While critics often address how Radcliffe draws upon the eighteenth-century aesthetic categories of the sublime and the picturesque, such considerations often cast her efforts as simply transcriptions of the pictorial works of landscape painters, or translations of theoretical concepts into narrative form. Instead, I argue that Radcliffe structures her narrative around her heroine's aesthetic encounters, and thus negotiates with the very conception and classifications of aesthetics of the past, present and imagined futures, in order to work through concerns of gender and class on the fundamental level of cognition, representation, and modes of reality. Chapter One ("The Limits of an Aesthetic Education") traces the thematization of the bequest of education and challenges the notion of St. Aubert as a benevolent patriarch. Instead, his teachings of reason and sympathy expose the internal contradiction between sentiment and scientific rationalism through which Radcliffe exposes the limits and relevance of such an education to her female subject in her confrontations with the aesthetic categories of the sublime and picturesque. Chapter Two ("The Aporias and Aesthetic Excess of St. Aubert's Philosophical Legacy") focuses on the death sequence of St. Aubert where Radcliffe foregrounds how his lack of a philosophy for mourning disables his daughter, and the consequences of the inherent melancholic disavowal which underlies St. Aubert's many philosophies become most tangible through aesthetic figures. Chapter Three ("Authorial Agency, Gendered Voice, and the Limits of Language") traces the metatextual instances where figures of reading convey Radcliffe's interrogation of the limitations of her own medium and how imagination is a necessary interpretative dimension of cognition, but one that is vulnerable to fear created by tyranny and isolation. Chapter Four ("Italian Aesthetics and Culture") explores Radcliffe's allegiance to a pastoral, and decidedly anti-Baroque aesthetic where she censures the preference for simulacra and increasingly critiques how so-called renaissances of culture often revive the stylistic surfaces and luxuries of the past where Venice becomes a figure of false hospitality and culture. Chapter Five ("Domestic Discord and Anodyne Endings") reconsiders the notion that Radcliffe defers to a so-called normalizing ending thus subduing the potential critiques of the text. Chapter Six ("Emily's Psychic Development and Search for Feminine Legacies") concludes with a psychoanalytic-based interpretation of the heroine's growth and demonstrates how her struggle with aesthetics throughout constitutes a search for sublimated female presences and suggests the possibility for Subjectivity through artistic reparation.

McMaster University Library

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