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The Genre Master: Auditory Horror in Anne Radcliffe’s Fiction


The Genre Master: Auditory Horror in Anne Radcliffe’s Fiction

Apparitions, or ghosts, or mysterious sounds and settings have long been associated with tales of haunted spaces through the centuries; through short stories, folklore and different mediums of delivering the narrative, the shape and form of these narratives have taken different shapes across cultures.  Author of Apparitions, Ghosts, Fairies, Demons and Wild Events writes that “Writings about apparitions informs us what various people think is important about their psyches and selves, about truth, error, mystery and the constitution of the real world” (Marshall 141). This claim is made from an anthropological perspective but it points us in the direction that this study will traverse for understanding how an author may write about these subjects in mainstream Western culture.

The gothic writer in the English history after the 1700’s was also interested in using the technique of horror for their fiction.  A few centuries later, this tradition remains a powerful genre and it has adapted to modern technologies such as television, radio and internet.  In Manu Aguirre’s work, Geometries of Terror, Aguirre supplies us with society’s interest in these new Medias, primarily with examples of films such as The Things From Another World, The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms.  Aguirre plants his argument next to Anne Radlicffe’s novel, The Italian to support his claim that these works show an affinity for spatial control in the horror genre.  I will also argue in favor of the genre being dependent on spatial geography.  However, these geo-spatial haunting effects must first be prepped for a supernatural effect.  Prepping the reader for this effect would include Jonathan Marshall’s emphases on the persons psyche and the constitution of the real world; only, I view these statements from a rhetorical understanding.  If a writer of gothic fiction wants to be successful in scaring their audience, they must prepare the reader mentally for an emotion worth reading for.


The intent of this work is to analyze how Anne Radcliffe provides a framework for sustaining supernatural effects in the novels Mysteries of Udolpho and Romance of the Forest.  One of the tools Radcliffe uses to accomplish this is by controlling audible psychology; Radcliffe deploys the interjection of random voices or questionable sounds which are expended from unknown locations that leave the characters questioning their own rationale and sense of direction or attachment to the location.  This study explores where Todorov leaves amiss in his definition of the fantastic: “We might indeed characterize such events as supernatural, but the supernatural, though a literary category, of course, is not relevant here” (35).   In this study, how the supernatural is rhetorically used in within the literary category, is the aim.  It is Radcliffe’s understanding and mastery of the character-mind and character disorientating tactics that allows her to entertain her readers with hauntings in these two novels.


Auditory Disruptions to Question Reality

Controlling the character’s reality constructs of subjectivity/objectivity and supporting them with a superstitious community, are compound, with her use of the auditory sense.  To add the third support beam to sustain supernatural effects, Radcliffe sprinkles different scenes with disorienting sounds which Todorov would label as the period of “uncertainty” (37).  In both works, characters are forced in “observing the peculiar tone in which” sounds, music and voices are delivered (Udolpho 62).  Similar to what Todorov explains in his definition of the fantastic, these sounds place the character in a state of ambivalence between the real and imaginary: “as [Emily] listened, her heart faltered in terror, and she became convinced, that the former sound was more than imaginary” (355).  Although the aim of this paper does not directly support Todorov’s definitions of  the fantastic, he does provide us with a good heuristic for analyzing moments of uncertainty, which in this case, are auditory disruptions used to disorientate characters.


Radcliffe sets up these auditory disorientations towards the beginning of Udolpho in Volume one where Emily’s father is still alive and she is seeing perceiving things objectively.  Emily wants to sooth her father’s pains so she decides to play some tunes for him with her lute, which was left in the fishing house.  As she approaches the fishing house “she was surprised to hear the tones of the instrument” but upon entering the room, she finds it “unoccupied” (9).  Being that this happens before her rationale becomes subjective, she dismisses these sounds due to the “melancholy gloom of evening, and the profound stillness of the place, interrupted only by the light trembling leaves, heightened her fanciful apprehensions” (9).  At this point in the novel, the sounds are explainable as being imaginary because of the setting.  On the journey to France, Emily and her father are forced to take rest at unfamiliar locations due to her father’s health, and on one of these instances where they are searching for a community; they ask a peasant about the chateau in the distance.  The peasant responds with a tone noted by the characters as being “peculiar in which it was delivered” (62).  Emily’s father elects to continue through the woods to try their luck despite the peasant advising them not to go there.  They enter the forest where they begin to hear music: “the sounds were distant and seemed to come from a remote part of the woods” (64).  Since Emily is still with her father, she doesn’t immediately question the reality of these sounds, rather, she insists that they are real and attempts to find their origins.  Later on though, these same sounds are disorienting and push Emily further into the threshold.  During her stay at Udolpho, Emily stays up late one night until midnight when she heard the soothing sounds of the lute coming from a distance unperceived and the “long suffering had made her spirits peculiarly sensible to terror, and liable to be affected by the illusions of superstition- it now seemed to her, as if her dead father had spoken to her…but with the inconsistency so natural, when imagination guides the thoughts, she then wavered towards a belief as wild” (330).  Coupling these auditory instances with a subjective mind places the characters right at the point of ambivalence between the real and imaginary as Todorov suggests.

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