Ann Radcliffe

It is a curious coincidence of literary history that the stars that reigned in the year of the nativity of The Castle of Otranto (1764) saw the birth of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe (Ward), in whose works we perceive the Gothic fiction approaching its meridian. Not much is known about her life, except that she was the wife of an Oxford graduate, and that she wrote her weird and mysterious tales beside a blazing fire in a quiet room to enliven her long, solitary winter evenings. Extraordinary fascinating stories flowed from her pen which, with all their faults, unmistakably bear the stamp of genius. The name of this potent enchantress, who touched the secret springs of fear and extended the domain of romance, was felt as a spell by her admirers, and to this day her blood-curdling terrors freeze many a midnight reader.

Yet she was known only by her works. The Edinburgh Review (May 1823) declares: "She never appeared in public, nor mingled in private society, but kept herself apart, like the sweet bird that sings its solitary notes, shrouded and unseen." She spent a life in the quiet shade of domestic seclusion, unheeded amidst the bustle of the world, confining her activities to domestic duties and homely pleasures. "She was more than repaid by the enjoyments which were fostered in the shade; and perhaps few distinguished authors have passed a life so blameless and so happy." . . . She probably attended Sophia Lee's school at Bath, and perhaps the only reference we get about her person is given by Charles Bucke in an interesting footnote to a curious work, On the Beauties, Harmonies, and Sublimities of Nature, stating that "her countenance indicated melancholy. She had been, doubtless, in her youth, beautiful." We are not yet made aware of any of those amusing foibles which usually chequer the lives of successful authors: "here are no brilliant conversational triumphs; no elaborate correspondence with the celebrated, or the great; no elegant malice; no anecdotes of patrons or rivals; none of the fashion's idle pastime, nor of controversies, nor idle business". . . "At the same time The Italian appeared, probably no author was so generally admired and so eagerly read as this young woman," says Clara Frances McIntyre in Ann Radcliffe in Relation to her Time, but in the high period of her fame she chose to lay by her pen. Probably she was disgusted to see her mode of composition profaned by a host of servile imitators, who, unable to achieve her merits, rendered her defects more obvious.

Varma, Devendra "The Gothic Flame" Pg. 85-86

Radcliffe's Published Books

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne - 1789
A Sicilian Romance: A Highland Story - 1790
The Romance of the Forest - 1792
The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance - 1794
The Italian: or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents - 1797
Gaston de Blondeville: or, The Court of Henry III Keeping Festival in Ardennes - 1826

As interest in Gothic Literature grows, devotion to Ann Radcliffe continues to increase, yet resources about this author and her influence are slow to come. Here a number of links devoted to Ann Radcliffe and her influence on literature.

The Gothic: Materials for Study
Extracts from most of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels are available from this introduction to Gothic Literature.

"On the Supernatural in Poetry"
An extract from this posthumously-published essay by Mrs. Radcliffe.

Ann Radcliffe, The Italian
This site examines Radcliffe's complex technique of scene painting in The Italian,to invent particular landscapes with complex emotions.

Excerpts from Ann Radcliffe's The Italian


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