Clara Reeve

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Clara Reeve
Born23 January 1729
Ipswich, England
Died3 December 1807
Ipswich, England

Clara Reeve (23 January 1729 – 3 December 1807) was an English novelist, best known for her Gothic novel The Old English Baron (1777).[1] She also wrote an innovative history of prose fiction, The Progress of Romance (1785). Her first work was a translation from Latin, then an unusual language for a woman to learn.


Reeve was born in Ipswich, one of the eight children of Reverend William Reeve, M. A., Rector of Freston and of Kerton in Suffolk, and perpetual curate of St Nicholas[where?]. Her mother was the daughter of a Smithies, a goldsmith and jeweller to King George I. Vice-Admiral Samuel Reeve (c. 1733–1803) was her brother.

In a letter to one of her friends Reeve said the following of her father and her early life:

My father was an old Whig; from him I have learned all that I know; he was my oracle; he used to make me read the Parliamentary debates, while he smoked his pipe after supper. I gaped and yawned over them at the time, but, unawares to myself, they fixed my principles once and for all. He made me read Rapin's History of England; the information it gave made amends for its dryness. I read Cato's Letters by Trenchard and Gordon; I read the Greek and Roman histories, and Plutarch's Lives: all these at an age when few people of either sex can read their names.[2]

After the death of her father, she lived with her mother and sisters in Colchester. It was there that she first became an author, publishing a translation of the historical allegory Argenis by John Barclay under the title of The Phoenix (1772).[3] She wrote several novels, of which only one is remembered: The Champion of Virtue, later known as The Old English Baron (1777), written in imitation of, or rivalry with The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, with which it has often been printed. The first edition under the title of The Old English Baron was dedicated to the daughter of Samuel Richardson, who is said to have helped Reeve revise and correct the novel.[4]

The novel noticeably influenced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Reeve also wrote the epistolary novel The School for Widows (1791). Her innovative history of prose fiction, The Progress of Romance (1785), can be regarded generally as a precursor to modern histories of the novel and specifically as upholding the tradition of female literary history heralded by Elizabeth Rowe (1674–1737) and Susannah Dobson (died 1795). One of the stories in the work, "The History of Charoba, Queen of Egypt", was the inspiration for Walter Savage Landor's first major piece, Gebir.

Reeve led a retiring life, leaving very little biographical material. She died at Ipswich and was buried, as she wished, in the churchyard of St Stephens, next to her friend the Reverend Derby.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gary Kelly, "Reeve, Clara (1729–1807)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  2. ^ Scott (1870) p. 545.
  3. ^ Scott (1870) p. 545.
  4. ^ Scott (1870) p. 546
  5. ^ Scott (1870) p. 546.


  • Scott, Walter (1870). Clara Reeve from Lives of the Eminent Novelists and Dramatists. London: Frederick Warne. pp. 545–550. |access-date= requires |url= (help)

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource