Study Guide

Emily St. Aubert in The Mysteries of Udolpho

By Ann Radcliffe

Emily St. Aubert

Giving the Manic Pixie Dream Girl a Run for Her Money

Before Zooey Deschanel ever batted her long eyelashes on New Girl, Emily St. Aubert was making a run for her money as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl prototype. When she's not flitting about the landscape like a woodland sprite, Em is writing poetry about majestic mountains and pondering her existence. Who else could wax eloquent about a glow-worm that "glimmers" in her path? (1.1.56). Okay, and she's also the inspiration for Valancourt and Du Pont, who love to lurk at a distance and put Em up on a mammoth pedestal. She's got the whole muse thing down pat.

That dreamy, head-in-the-clouds thing Em's got going on isn't helped by her 24/7 emotional rollercoaster. Em's got drama for miles. St. Aubert tries to "teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings," but how fun is that when Valancourt is pleading with her to elope (1.1.12)?

Emily's read her romance novels and she knows exactly how to play her cards. Mix up some tears, a trembling lip, and a fainting spell, and we've got all the ingredients for a Suffering Heroine.

Not Just a Pretty Face

We like to give Emily grief, but let's not be too harsh on the poor girl. She's basically having the worst year of her life, what with all the deaths, ghosts, kidnapping attempts, and Valancourt drama. And she's way more than just a pretty pout and fluttery eyelashes.

Sure, the fainting can be a little much—but when it comes down to it, she's smart and resourceful enough to usually get exactly what she wants. Think about it: when Montoni tried to trick her into signing away her properties for the first time, Em "refused to sign what she had not read" (3.5.9). In other words, she shut him down. And when he told her she was his captive, she made a break for it at the first available opportunity.

Oh yeah, and the Valancourt thing? Our girl is not going let him waltz in and sweep her off her feet before locking down some financial security. No, honey, it's not okay to give our life savings to the first person who needs a break. Em's got the classiest breakup line of all time:

"[…] if my happiness is dear to you, you will always remember, that nothing can contribute to it more, than to believe, that you have recovered your own esteem." (4.2.4)

In other words: get it together, because we are never ever getting back together.  She's an inspiration for girls with bad exes everywhere.

Gimme Some Orders

Em may know what she wants in a boyfriend, but she's not about to disobey her elders. She burns her dad's papers even though there's some super-interesting stuff going up in the flames. Hey, we'd be tempted to sneak a peek. When Madame Cheron tells her to drop her one true love and move to Italy, she reluctantly goes along with it.

And she's a sucker for father-figures like the Count de Villeforte telling her what's up: once again, she drops Valancourt like it's hot on his advice. "We are now parting for ever," she firmly tells her broken-hearted boo, even when he makes puppy eyes at her (4.2.4). But once the higher-ups give the go-ahead, she's willing to make that marriage work. "I had not taught myself entirely to forget you," she admits to Valancourt (4.18.23). That's some pretty impressive self-restraint.

Bring on the Dollar Signs

In the end, Em gains power the old-fashioned way: through inheriting a bunch of money and property. She goes from practically penniless to super-rich just by waiting it out through all the evil uncles, ghosts, and strange music. Call it karma or fate, but Em's running the show by the end of the book.

But even with all the cash in the world, Em is no Material Girl: she "begged Valancourt would allow her to resign [Signora Laurentini's legacy] to Mons. Bonnac" (4.19.7). That's because she's just a simple girl at heart. All she really wants is her family home, Valancourt… and to never to see a ghost again.