Ann Radcliffe

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This article is about the 18th-century author. For the 17th-century benefactor of Harvard, see Ann (Radcliffe) Mowlson.
Ann Radcliffe
Ann Radcliffe.jpg
Born (1764-07-09)9 July 1764
Holborn, London
Died 7 February 1823(1823-02-07) (aged 58)
Occupation Novelist
Nationality English
Genre Gothic novel

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 " the explained supernatural," the final revelation of inexplicable phenomena, that helped the Gothic novel achieve respectability in the 1790s.

Biography[edit]

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."[1] 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.'"[1]

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."[1] 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. Despite the acclaim for her writing, she did not maintain a public profile.

There are few artifacts or manuscripts that give insight into Radcliffe's personal life, however, in 2014, a rare letter from Radcliffe to her mother-in-law was found in an archive at the British Library. The tone of the letter suggests a strained relationship between the two, similar to the relationship of two characters in her novel The Italian.[2]

Literary life[edit]

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".[1] 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.[3] She states that terror aims to stimulate readers through imagination and perceived evils while horror closes them off through fear and physical dangers.[4]

Ann Radcliffe influenced many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), and Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). For example, Scott interspersed his work with poems in a similar manner as Radcliffe, and one assessment of him reads: "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.'"[5]

Art connection[edit]

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:[1]

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.

Allusions[edit]

  • 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."[6]
  • 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)..."[7]
  • 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."[8]
  • 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."[9]

Popular Culture[edit]

  • 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.

Selected publications[edit]

Influence on later writers[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Chawton House Library: Ruth Facer, "Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823)", retrieved 1 December 2012
  2. ^ Alison Flood, Gothic fiction pioneer Ann Radcliffe may have been inspired by mother-in-law, The Guardian, 30 January 2014.
  3. ^ Dr. Lilia Melani. "Gothic History". Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Eighteenth Century Lit, Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic, The Mysteries of Udolpho: Discover the secrets within…
  5. ^ Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, eds., British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary (NY: H.W. Wilson, 1952), 427
  6. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1826/1826-h/1826-h.htm
  7. ^ Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Charles E. Wilbour, trans. (NY: Modern Library), 900
  8. ^ Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Children, Avril Pyman, trans. (NY: Everyman's Library), 190
  9. ^ Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination ... (London: Octopus Books Limited, 1981), 228
  10. ^ Samuel Rogers, Balzac and the Novel (Octagon Books, 1969), 21

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

 Garnett, Richard (1896). "Radcliffe, Ann". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co.