When we first meet Emily St. Aubert, she's young, naïve, and totally clueless about the surrounding world. But she's also got a healthy dose of curiosity about it, to the extent that she's constantly writing emo sonnets about nature. Here's the kicker: Booker says that our protagonist is "likely to be in some state which lays them open to a shattering new experience." After the death of Madame St. Aubert, Em is catapulted into a new and scary world beyond the chateau she calls home.
Initial Fascination or Dream Stage
When Em's mom dies, her dad takes her on a tour of the surrounding countryside that rocks her world. We thought there was plenty of emo poetry-writing in the first chapter, but this takes the cake. Em's in a dream state throughout the entire trip as she struggles to sort out All the Feels—about her mom's death, the handsome new stranger who keeps hanging around, and the unpredictability of nature. Even though Em's a major nature buff, she's only just starting to understand how freakin' impressive it is.
Ripped away from home and her beloved Valancourt, Em is starting to feel like a birdie trapped in a cage. Her new guardian, Madame Cheron, totally doesn't get what Em is about. Even worse, dear old Auntie Cheron only seems to care about marrying Em off to a rich guy ASAP.
Booker gives us the lowdown on this stage: "A shadow begins intrude, which becomes increasingly alarming." That shadow would be none other than Montoni, the dude who sweeps Madame Cheron off her feet and sweeps Em over to his creepy-looking castle. The poor girl can't catch a break.
Udolpho is a castle right out of Em's worst nightmares. Not only is her new "uncle" a suspected murderer and outlaw, but there's a secret door leading right into her chamber. As in, anyone can pop in whenever they want to say hello… or attempt a kidnapping.
Booker says there's a serious threat to our protagonist's survival in this stage. Once again, Montoni steps up to the plate to scare Em senseless. He's willing to do anything to get Em to sign away her property rights, even letting his thugs harass her wherever she goes. But even when she does what he wants, he has no intention of letting her leave the castle. Montoni is a mean, lean, lying machine.
Thrilling Escape and Return
Em takes the first chance she gets to flee Udolpho with some friends, but it's a pretty harrowing journey back to France. First of all, no one remembers to bring any money. Oops. Second, the boat taking them home almost gets wrecked on some rocks.
Em's story doesn't end with her return home, though. Before she can truly return to La Vallée, she's gotta figure out the answers to some puzzling mysteries, like why old Dorothée thinks she's a ringer for the dead Marchioness. And sorry, Booker, Em can't exactly book it home when she's still penniless. Getting those little complications straightened out lets Em return home triumphantly, with Valancourt to boot.