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American Mary

Posted on February 24, 2016

Origins of the Final Girl: Ann Radcliffe and American Mary

Guest Post

In Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 four-volume Gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, the heroine Emily is incarcerated in the castle of Udolpho after her father’s death and the subsequent guardianship of her aunt and new husband, Montoni. Montoni brings her to Udolpho in order to coerce her to marry his friend, Morano, threatening her virginity, and her life until she agrees to do so. Emily, in other words, is in a position of subordination, instability, and danger typical of eighteenth-century Gothic literature: we see it in Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, Lee’s The Recess, Lewis’s The Monk, and the list goes on. Some version of female incarceration happens in nearly all of Radcliffe’s novels, though Udolpho is her most iconic.


Though Radcliffe’s heroines may not be as obviously strong and independent as the horror film women discussed during Women in Horror Month, I want to argue for them as precursors to Carol Clover’s “Final Girls”: women who, through their own ingenuity, survive the men (or monsters) who threaten them with violence and/or sexual assault.

Udolpho is well-known for exhibiting Radcliffe’s characteristic “explained supernatural”: Suggestions of a supernatural force throughout the text are revealed to be the misinterpretation of natural and easily-explained occurrences by the heroine. However, the “natural” threat to her life and person is still very real. The men who fill the castle and stalk the hallways of Udolpho make murder and rape more terrifying than any supernatural element. But what makes Udolpho noteworthy in the context of Women in Horror Month is that, despite the images of death and horror that Emily encounters around every corner of her new prison/home, she refuses to be intimidated into a marriage with a man she despises, and she eventually escapes with the help of her sympathetic servant and a mysterious stranger.

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