Ann Radcliffe

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Ann 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 of this style). 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 triumph of reason, and explanation of the seemingly inexplicable supernatural that helped the Gothic novel to become culturally acceptable.



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‘ (Facer). 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 Ann 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‘” (Facer).

Radcliffe was born as Ann Ward in Holborn, London on July 9th, 1764. Her father was William Ward, a haberdasher (who later moved to Bath to managed 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' (Facer). Later they traveled together, along with their dog, Chance, using profits from her novels. When Ann died on February 7th, 1823, there were some reports that she was insane. However, her husband adamantly claimed that she had died of an asthma attack.

Literary Life

Ann'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.

Ann 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 Austin 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.

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