Sophia Lee

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Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee Ridley.jpg
Sophia Lee, 1797 engraving
Born 1750
Died (1824-03-13)13 March 1824
Occupation playwright, librettist

Sophia Lee (1750 – 13 March 1824) was an English novelist, dramatist and educator.

Life and Literary Production[edit]

She was the daughter of John Lee (died 1781), actor and theatrical manager, and was born in London. Her first piece, The Chapter of Accidents, a three-act drama based on Denis Diderot's Le père de famille, was produced by George Colman the Elder at the Haymarket Theatre on 5 August 1780 and was an immediate success.[1]

When her father died in 1781, Lee spent the proceeds of the play on establishing a school at Bath, where she made a home for her sisters Anne and Harriet. Her novel The Recess, or a Tale of other Times (1783–85) was a historical romance; and the play Almeyda, Queen of Grenada (1796) was a long tragedy in blank verse, which opened at Drury Lane on 20 April 1796 but ran for only five nights.[2]

The Recess can also be regarded as a formative work of the original Gothic, echoing and pre-dating themes from other contemporary Gothic writers. It was so popular that a spin-off novelette appeared in 1820, Rose Douglas; or, The Court of Elizabeth[3] [1] William Hazlitt might consider it "dismal" by comparison with the works of Ann Radcliffe, but its influence both on the Gothic school of the Minerva Press, and on figures like Walter Scott is nonetheless clear.[4] From this work, Italian writer Carlo Federici wrote the play Il paggio di Leicester (Leicester's Page) and, in turn, that became the source of Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, (Elizabeth, Queen of England) the 1812 opera by Gioachino Rossini, the libretto of which was written by Giovanni Schmidt.

With her sister Harriet Lee, Sophia also wrote a series of Canterbury Tales (1797). Other works included The Life of a Lover (1804) and Ormond; or the Debauchee (1810). She died at her house near Clifton, Bristol on 13 March 1824.[2]



The Chapter of Accidents (1780)

Almeyda, Queen of Granada (1796)

The Assignation (1807)


The Recess (1783-1785)

Canterbury Tales (1797-1799), co- authored with Harriet Lee

The Life of a Lover (1804)

Ormond; or the Debauchee (1810)


  1. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ a b Lee 1892.
  3. ^ Grundy, Isobel. [ "Sophia Lee"] Check |url= value (help). Orlando Database of Women's Writing in the British Isles, Beginning to Present. Cambridge University Press Online. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  4. ^ C. Spooner ed. The Routledge Companion to Gothic (2007) pp. 10, 73, and 156



  • Alliston, April. Virtue's Faults: Correspondences in Eighteenth-Century British and French Women's Fiction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996).
  • Alliston, April, ed. The Recess, or, A Tale of Other Times (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000).
  • Lewis, Jayne Elizabeth. "'Ev'ry Lost Relation': Historical Fictions and Sentimental Incidents in Sophia Lee's The Recess.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7, no. 2 (January 1995): 165-84.
  • Lewis, Jayne Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots: Romance and Nation (London: Routledge, 1998).
  • Nordius, Janina. "A Tale of Other Places: Sophia Lee's The Recess and Colonial Gothic." Studies in the Novel 34.2 (Summer 2002): 162-76.
  • Rigliano, Matthew J. "The Recess Does Not Exist: Absorption, Literality, and Feminine Subjectivity in Sophia Lee's The Recess." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 26.2 (Winter 2013-14): 209-32.
  • Sodeman, Melissa. Sentimental Memorials: Women and the Novel in Literary History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014).
  • Stevens, Anne H. British Historical Fiction Before Scott (New York: Palgrave, 2010).

External links[edit]