Ann Radcliffe (née, Ward 9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823) was an English author and a pioneer of the Gothic novel. Her style is romantic in its vivid descriptions of landscapes and long travel scenes, yet the Gothic element is obvious through her use of the supernatural. It was her technique of explained Gothicism, the final revelation of inexplicable phenomena, that helped the Gothic novel achieve respectability in the 1790s.
Very little is known of Ann Radcliffe's life. In 1823, the year of her death, the Edinburgh Review, said: "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." Christina Rossetti attempted to write a biography about her life, but abandoned the project for lack of information.
According to Ruth Facer: "Physically, she was said to be 'exquisitely proportioned' – quite short, complexion beautiful 'as was her whole countenance, especially her eyes, eyebrows and mouth.'"
Radcliffe was born as Ann Ward in Holborn, London on 9 July 1764. Her father was William Ward, a haberdasher, who later moved to Bath to manage a china shop. Her mother was Ann Oates. In 1787, she married Oxford graduate and journalist William Radcliffe, part-owner and editor of the English Chronicle. He often came home late, and to occupy her time she began to write and read her work to him when he returned home. They had a childless, but seemingly happy marriage. Ann called him her "nearest relative and friend." The money she earned from her novels later allowed them to travel together, along with their dog, Chance. When Ann died on 7 February 1823, there were some reports that she was insane. Her husband claimed that she died of an asthma attack.
There is evidence to suggest that she may have had a slightly strained relationship with her mother-in-law.
Radcliffe's fiction is characterised by seemingly supernatural events that are then provided rational explanations. Throughout her work, traditional moral values are asserted, the rights of women are advocated, and reason prevails.
Radcliffe published six novels in all. These are (listed alphabetically): The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, Gaston de Blondeville, The Italian, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest, and A Sicilian Romance. She also published a book of poetry, but her talent for prose far exceeded her poetic ability. She also authored a work based on her one excursion to the Continent, A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany...To Which Are Added Observations of a Tour to the Lakes (1795).
Radcliffe is considered one of the founders of Gothic literature. While there were others that preceded her, Radcliffe was the one that legitimised the genre. Sir Walter Scott called her the "founder of a class or school". Jane Austen parodied Radcliffe's novel The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like where Gothic literature was headed, and one of her later novels, The Italian, was written in response to Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. It is assumed that this frustration is what caused Radcliffe to cease writing. After Radcliffe's death, her husband released her unfinished essay "On the Supernatural in Poetry," which details the difference between the sensation of terror her works aimed to achieve and the horror Lewis sought to evoke.
Ann Radcliffe had influenced many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), and Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). Scott interspersed his work with poems, as did Radcliffe. In one assessment: "Scott himself said that her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two dimensional, the plots far fetched and improbable, with 'elaboration of means and futility of result.'"
Radcliffe's elaborate description of landscapes was influenced by the painters Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa. She often wrote about places she had never been. Lorrain's influence can be seen through Radcliffe's picturesque, romantic descriptions of landscapes, as seen in the first volume of The Mysteries of Udolpho. Rosa's influence can be seen through dark landscapes and elements of the Gothic.
Radcliffe said of Lorrain:
In a shaded corner, near the chimney, a most exquisite Claude, an evening view, perhaps over the Campagna of Rome. The sight of this picture imparted much of the luxurious repose and satisfaction, which we derive from contemplating the finest scenes of nature. Here was the poet, as well as the painter, touching the imagination, and making you see more than the picture contained. You saw the real light of the sun, you breathed the air of the country, you felt all the circumstances of a luxurious climate on the most serene and beautiful landscape; and the mind thus softened, you almost fancied you hear Italian music in the air.
- In Maria Edgeworth's book Belinda (1801), Lady Delacour remarks on Clarence Hervey's letters, "Here, my love, if you like description...here is a Radcliffean tour along the picturesque coasts of Dorset and Devonshire."
- Honore de Balzac, in Sarrasine, wrote: "But, unfortunately, the enigmatical history of the Lanty family offered a perpetual subject of curiosity, not unlike that aroused by the novels of Anne Radcliffe."
- Victor Hugo, in Les Misérables, wrote: "...in the night there would be people who would pillage the isolated houses in the deserted quartiers of Paris (in this the imagination of the police was recognized, that Anne Radcliffe mixed with government)..."
- In Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Children (or Fathers and Sons), a character says, "The Russian peasant is that same mysterious stranger of whom Mrs Radcliffe once had so much to say."
- Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Oval Portrait," begins "The château ... was one of those piles of commingled gloom and grandeur which have so long frowned among the Apennines, not less in fact than in the fancy of Mrs. Radcliffe."
- Paul Féval, père used Radcliffe as his protagonist in the novel La Ville Vampire (translated as Vampire City, 2003).
- In the film Becoming Jane (2007), she is portrayed by Helen McCrory in a scene where she meets Jane Austen and encourages her to embark on a writing career. There is no historical evidence of such a meeting, though Radcliffe's works had clearly influenced Austen's.
- The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1 volume), 1789, gothic novel. ISBN 0-19-282357-4
- A Sicilian Romance (2 vols.) 1790, gothic novel. ISBN 0-19-283666-8
- The Romance of the Forest (3 vols.) 1791, gothic novel. ISBN 0-19-283713-3
- The Mysteries of Udolpho (4 vols.) 1794. ISBN 0-19-282523-2
- The Italian (3 vols.) 1797. ISBN 0-14-043754-1
- Gaston de Blondeville (4 vols.) 1826, reprinted in 2006 by Valancourt Books ISBN 0-9777841-0-X
Influence on later writers
- Jane Austen
- William Makepeace Thackeray
- Sir Walter Scott
- William Wordsworth
- Honoré de Balzac's novel of the supernatural L'Héritière de Birague (1822) follows the tradition of and parodies Radcliffe's style.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Mary Shelley
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
- John Keats
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Lord Byron
- Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Oval Portrait" drew from Udolpho and mentions Radcliffe by name (somewhat disparagingly) in the introduction.
- Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847)
- Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847)
- Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit (1855-7)
- Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1860)
- H.P. Lovecraft
- Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938)
- Witold Gombrowicz's Possessed, or The Secret of Myslotch: A Gothic Novel (1939)
- Henry James's short story The Turn of the Screw (1898) in which the governess asks whether there was a "secret at Bly - a mystery of Udolpho..."
- Kate Mosse's Sepulchre (2007)
- Chawton House Library: Ruth Facer, "Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823)", retrieved 1 December 2012
- Dr. Lilia Melani. "Gothic History". Retrieved 3 May 2012.
- Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, eds., British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary (NY: H.W. Wilson, 1952), 427
- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Charles E. Wilbour, trans. (NY: Modern Library), 900
- Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Children, Avril Pyman, trans. (NY: Everyman's Library), 190
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination ... (London: Octopus Books Limited, 1981), 228
- Samuel Rogers, Balzac and the Novel (Octagon Books, 1969), 21
- Ann Radcliffe. Brooklyn College English Department, 9 May 2003. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/ novel_18c/radcliffe/index.html
- Cody, David. "Ann Radcliffe: An Evaluation." The Victorian Web: An Overview. July 2000. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/radcliffe/intro.html
- Lorraine, Claude. Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helion (Parnassus). 1680. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Web Gallery of Art. Aug. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. http://www.wga.hu/index1.html
- Rosa, Salvator. Landscape with Tobias and the Angel. C. 1660-73. The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London. The National Gallery. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/server.php?show=conObject.787
- A biography of Radcliffe, by Deborah Rogers, was published in 1996. ISBN 978-0-313-28379-6
|Library resources about
|By Ann Radcliffe|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Ann Radcliffe|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Ann Radcliffe at Project Gutenberg
- Listing in 'The Literary Gothic'
- Listing in The Victorian Web
- Biography, links, and e-texts at The Literary Gothic
- Biography and brief description of her writing
- Norton, Rictor (1999). Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe. Available online via Google Books