"...But, my dearest Catherine, what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?"
One night, I was a little bored and I was thinking of Northanger Abbey. And while I was thinking of it, I remembered the black veil that Catherine was so desperate to know what was behind it. And I thought to myself (though I have seen this question around the blogs that I follow),"Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world! Are not you wild to know?""Oh! Yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me—I would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a skeleton, I am sure it is Laurentina's skeleton. Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world." (Northanger Abbey, Volume I, Chapter 6)
What is really behind the black veil?
And since I really didn't feel like reading Udolpho at this moment in time, I had always assumed that I wouldn't know... Until I remembered a little thing called Google!
So, for all of your who just don't want to read Udolpho, but would like to know what it was behind the black veil, read on. However, if you do wish to read it and don't want to run into any spoilers, I suggest you turn back now.
*Waits until people who don't want to see spoilers leaves the room*
Okay, now that all of you who want to know are here, I'll reveal my findings. After looking through a couple of sites that came up in my Google search for "in the mysteries of udolpho, what was behind the black veil?" (I don't really use correct grammar in my Google searches), I found a couple of sites that proved to be useful.
The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) had this article entitled "Reading by the Book in Northanger Abbey" that proved to be very useful. So, in Northanger Abbey, Catherine guesses that it is Laurentina's skeleton that is behind the veil, and I guess for part of the book, you are lead to suspect that it is something along those lines. From what I've read, the main character in Udolpho, Emily, looks behind the veil and the reader only gets to see her expression that it is something shocking.
Emily passed on with faltering steps, and having paused a moment at the door, before she attempted to open it, she then hastily entered the chamber, and went towards the picture, which appeared to be enclosed in a frame of uncommon size, that hung in a dark part of the room. She paused again, and then, with a timid hand, lifted the veil; but instantly let it fall—perceiving that what it had concealed was no picture, and, before she could leave the chamber, she dropped senseless on the floor. (Mysteries of Udolpho, Volume II, Chapter 6)
But, as the readers find out later, it turned out that it was merely a wax statue that she mistook for a body.
|Oops... Only a laundry list...|
But doesn't that seem very similar to the scene in Northanger Abbey where Catherine tries to open the cabinet to find papers that she believes to hold some dark secret that turn out to be a laundry list? One of the notes in that article says that that is one way that Jane Austen satirized Udolpho.
Update: Blowback brought to my attention this passage from The Mysteries of Udolpho that discloses the wax figure to the reader. Here it is:
It may be remembered, that, in a chamber of Udolpho, hung a black veil, whose singular situation had excited Emily's curiosity, and which afterwards disclosed an object, that had overwhelmed her with horror; for, on lifting it, there appeared, instead of the picture she had expected, within a recess of the wall, a human figure of ghastly paleness, stretched at its length, and dressed in the habiliments of the grave. What added to the horror of the spectacle, was, that the face appeared partly decayed and disfigured by worms, which were visible on the features and hands. On such an object, it will be readily believed, that no person could endure to look twice. Emily, it may be recollected, had, after the first glance, let the veil drop, and her terror had prevented her from ever after provoking a renewal of such suffering, as she had then experienced. Had she dared to look again, her delusion and her fears would have vanished together, and she would have perceived, that the figure before her was not human, but formed of wax. (Volume II, Chapter 17)
So, now you know what was behind the black veil!
Note: If you have actually read Udolpho and have anything to contribute to this post, feel free to leave a comment. I will credit you, of course.
Keep in mind that I also used this blog post from a blog called The Common Reader to kind of point me in the right direction for quotes from Udolpho and such.