Ann Radcliffe

Anne Radcliffe
File:Anne Radcliffe.jpg
Born 9 July 1764(1764-07-09)
Holborn, London
Died 7 February 1823(1823-02-07) (aged 58)
Occupation Novelist
Nationality English
Genres Gothic novel

Anne Radcliffe (9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823) was an English author, and considered the pioneer of the gothic novel (although she was not the first to publish a book in this mode--see The Castle of Otranto). 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. The Edinburgh Review, published in 1823 (the year of her death) said of her: '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 it for lack of information.

As far as is known, there are no images available of Anne Radcliffe. The one on this page is popularly circulated on the internet, but is a stock image, and not a resemblance of Radcliffe. 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 July 9, 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] Later they traveled together, along with their dog, Chance, using profits from her novels. When Ann died on February 7, 1823, there were some reports that she was insane. However, her husband adamantly claimed that she had died of an asthma attack.

Literary life

Radcliffe's fiction is characterized by seemingly supernatural events being explained through reason. Throughout her work traditional morals are asserted, women’s rights are advocated for, and reason prevails.

Radcliffe published 6 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.

Radcliffe is considered to be the founder of Gothic literature. While there were others that preceded her, Radcliffe was the one that legitimized Gothic literature. Sir Walter Scott called her the 'founder of a class or school‘ (Facer). Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like where Gothic literature was headed, and her final novel, 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.

Anne Radcliffe had a profound influence on many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) and Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). Scott also interspersed his work with poems, as did Radcliffe. Indeed, "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.'"[2]

Art connection

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 volume one 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.”[1]

In popular culture

Paul Féval, père used her as his protagonist in the novel La Ville Vampire (translated as Vampire City).

In the film Becoming Jane, 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 as noted Radcliffe's works had clearly influenced Austen's).

In Maria Edgeworth's book Belinda, Lady Delacour remarks on Clarence Hervey's letters, "Here, my love, if you like is a Radcliffean tour along the picturesque coasts of Dorset and Devonshire."

A biography of Radcliffe, by Deborah Rogers, was published in 1996. ISBN 978-0313283796

Selected publications

Influence on later writers


[4] [5] [6][7]

  1. ^ a b c d Facer, Ruth. "Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823)." Chawton House Library. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.
  2. ^ British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary Ed. Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1952. pg. 427
  3. ^ Rogers, Samuel: Balzac and the Novel, page 21. Octagon Books, 1969.
  4. ^ Ann Radcliffe. Brooklyn College English Department, 9 May 2003. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. < novel_18c/radcliffe/index.html>.
  5. ^ Cody, David. "Ann Radcliffe: An Evaluation." The Victorian Web: An Overview. July 2000. Web. 01 Dec. 2010. <>.
  6. ^ 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. <>.
  7. ^ Rosa, Salvator. Landscape with Tobias and the Angel. C. 1660-73. The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London. The National Gallery. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.

External links

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

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