Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe (née Ward; 9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823) was an English novelist and a pioneer of Gothic fiction. Her technique of explaining apparently supernatural elements in her novels has been credited with gaining respectability for Gothic fiction in the 1790s.[1] Radcliffe was the most popular writer of her day and almost universally admired; contemporary critics called her the mighty enchantress and the Shakespeare of romance-writers, and her popularity continued through the 19th century.[2] Interest has revived in the early 21st century, with the publication of three biographies.[3]

Ann Radcliffe
Ann Radcliffe.jpg
BornAnn Ward
9 July 1764 (1764-07-09)
Holborn, London, England
Died7 February 1823 (1823-02-08) (aged 58)
London, England


Early LifeEdit

Radcliffe was born Ann Ward in Holborn, London on 9 July 1764. Her father was William Ward (1737–1798), a haberdasher, who moved the family to Bath to manage a china shop in 1772. Her mother was Ann Oates (1726–1800) of Chesterfield.[4] Radcliffe occasionally lived in Chelsea with her maternal uncle, Thomas Bentley, who was in partnership with a fellow Unitarian, Josiah Wedgwood, maker of the Wedgwood china. Sukey, Wedgwood's daughter, also stayed in Chelsea and is Radcliffe's only known childhood companion. Sukey later married Dr. Robert Darwin and had a son, the naturalist Charles Darwin. Although mixing in some distinguished circles, Radcliffe seems to have made little impression in this society and was described by Wedgwood as "Bentley's shy niece".[5]


In 1787, Ward married the Oxford graduate and journalist William Radcliffe (1763–1830), 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. Theirs was a childless and seemingly happy marriage. Radcliffe called him her "nearest relative and friend".[3] The money she earned from her novels later allowed them to travel together, along with their dog, Chance.

There are few artifacts or manuscripts that give insight into Radcliffe's personal life, but in 2014 a rare letter from Radcliffe to her mother-in-law was found in an archive at the British Library. Its tone suggests a strained relationship between the two, which may have inspired the relationship between Ellena Rosalba and the Marchesa di Vivaldi in her novel The Italian.[6]

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.'"[3]

Later LifeEdit

In her final years, Radcliffe retreated from public life and was rumoured to have become insane as a result of her writing.[7] These rumours arose because Radcliffe just stopped writing after publishing her five novels, though the last three were very successful. She remained secluded for 26 years, with no real explanation available to her many fans.[8] However, this supposed seclusion is contradicted in The New Monthly Magazine, which states that the tenor of Mrs. Radcliffe's life was characterized by the rare union of the literary gentlewoman and the active housewife. Instead of being in confinement in Derbyshire, as has been asserted, she was to be seen, every Sunday, at St. James's Church; almost every fine day in Hyde Park; sometimes at the theatres, and very frequently at the Opera.[9]

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."[3]

Death and Posthumous WorkEdit

Ann died on 7 February 1823 and was buried in a vault in the Chapel of Ease at St George's, Hanover Square, London. Although she had suffered from asthma for twelve years previously,[3] her modern biographer, Rictor Norton, cites the description given by her physician, Dr. Scudamore, of how "a new inflammation seized the membranes of the brain," which led to "violent symptoms" and argues that they suggest a "bronchial infection, leading to pneumonia, high fever, delirium and death."[10]

Shortly after her death, Gaston de Blondeville was published for Henry Colburn, featuring A Memoir for the Authoress, the first known biographical piece on Radcliffe.[11]

Christina Rossetti attempted to write a biography of Radcliffe in 1883, but abandoned it for lack of information. For 50 years, biographers stayed away from her as a subject, agreeing with Rossetti's estimation. Rictor Norton, author of Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe (1999), argues that those 50 years were "dominated by interpretation rather than scholarship" where information (specifically on her rumoured madness) was repeated rather than traced to a reliable source.[12]

Literary lifeEdit

Radcliffe published five novels during her lifetime, which she always referred to as "romances"; a final novel, Gaston de Blondeville was published posthumously in 1826. At a time when the average amount earned by an author for a manuscript was £10, her publishers, G. G. and J. Robinson, bought the copyright for The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) for £500, while Cadell and Davies paid £800 for The Italian (1797), making Radcliffe the highest-paid professional writer of the 1790s.[1] Her first successful novel was Romance of the Forest (1791).

Ann Radcliffe led a retired life and never visited the countries where the fearful happenings in her novels took place. Her only journey abroad, to Holland and Germany, was made in 1794 after most of her books were written. The journey was described in her A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (1795).[13]

Jane Austen parodied The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like the direction in which Gothic literature was heading – one of her later novels, The Italian, was written in response to Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. Radcliffe portrayed her female characters as equal to male characters, allowing them to dominate and overtake the typically powerful male villains and heroes, creating new roles for women in literature previously not available.[14] 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.[15] Radcliffe stated that terror aims to stimulate readers through imagination and perceived evils while horror closes them off through fear and physical dangers.[16] "Terror and Horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them."[17]

Radcliffe was unique[dubious ] in that she was known for including supernatural elements but eventually giving readers a rational explanation for the supernatural. Usually, Radcliffe would reveal the logical excuse for what first appeared to be supernatural towards the end of her novels, which led to heightened suspense. Some critics/readers found this disappointing and felt duped. Perhaps the most eloquent complaint against the trope was penned by Walter Scott in his Lives of the Novelists (1821–1824). Regarding Radcliffe’s penchant, he writes: “A stealthy step behind the arras may, doubtless, in some situations, and when the nerves are tuned to a certain pitch, have no small influence upon the imagination; but if the conscious listener discovers it to be only the noise made by the cat, the solemnity of the feeling is gone, and the visionary is at once angry with his sense for having been cheated, and with his reason for having acquiesced in the deception."[18] Some modern critics have been frustrated by her work, as she fails to include "real ghosts". This could be motivated by the idea that works in the Romantic period, from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, had to undermine Enlightenment values such as rationalism and realism.[18]


Radcliffe's work have been considered by some scholars to be part of a larger tradition of anti-Catholicism within Gothic literature; her works contain hostile portrayals of both Catholicism and Catholics.[19] The Italian frequently presents Catholicism, the largest religion in Italy, in a negative light. In the novel, Radcliffe portrays Catholic elements such as the Inquisition in a negative light, pointing to its discriminatory practises against non-Catholics. Radcliffe also portrays the confessional as a "danger zone" controlled by the power of the priest and the church.[20] The Mysteries of Udolpho also contained negative portrayals of Catholicism; both novels are set in Catholic-majority Italy, and Catholicism was presented as being part of "ancient Italianess". Italy, along with its Catholicism, had been featured in earlier Gothic literature; Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto claimed in-universe that it was "found in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England" and "printed at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529".[21]

Some scholars have suggested that Radcliffe's anti-Catholicism was partly a response to the 1791 Roman Catholic Relief Act passed by the British parliament, which was a major component of Catholic emancipation in Great Britain.[19] Other scholars have suggested that Radcliffe was ultimately ambivalent towards Catholicism, claiming that she was a Latitudinarian.[22]

Art connectionEdit

Radcliffe's elaborate descriptions of landscape were influenced by the painters Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa. She often wrote about places she had never visited. Lorrain's influence can be seen through Radcliffe's picturesque, romantic descriptions, 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 Claude:[3]

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.

Gothic landscapesEdit

Radcliffe used the framing narrative of personifying nature in many of her novels. For example, she believed that the sublime motivated the protagonist to create an image that was more idealistic within the plot.[23]

Influence on later writersEdit


"I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again;—I remember finishing it in two days—my hair standing on end the whole time."[24]

 — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)

Radcliffe influenced many later authors, both by inspiring more Gothic fiction and by inspiring parodies. In the eighteenth century, she inspired writers like Matthew Lewis (1775 – 1818) and the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), who praised her work but produced more intensely violent fiction. Radcliffe is known for having spawned a large number of lesser imitators of the "Radcliffe School", such as Harriet Lee and Catherine Cuthbertson. Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) defined her fiction as a contrast to Radcliffe and writers like her, especially in Northanger Abbey (1817), Austen's parody of The Mysteries of Udolpho. Scholars have also perceived other apparent allusions to Radcliffe's novels and life in Austen's work.[25]

In the early nineteenth century, Radcliffe influenced Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), and Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). For example, Scott interspersed his work with poems in a similar manner to Radcliffe, and one assessment of her 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'."[26] Later in the nineteenth century, Charlotte and Emily Brontë continued Radcliffe's Gothic tradition with their novels Jane Eyre, Villette, and Wuthering Heights.

Radcliffe was also admired by French authors like Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850), Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885), Alexandre Dumas (1802 – 1870), and Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867).[27] Honoré de Balzac's novel of the supernatural L'Héritière de Birague (1822) follows the tradition of Radcliffe's style and parodies it.[28]

As a child the young Fyodor Dostoyevsky was deeply impressed by Radcliffe. In Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863) he writes, "I used to spend the long winter hours before bed listening (for I could not yet read), agape with ecstasy and terror, as my parents read aloud to me from the novels of Ann Radcliffe. Then I would rave deliriously about them in my sleep." A number of scholars have noted elements of Gothic literature in Dostoyevsky's novels,[29] and some have tried to show direct influence of Radcliffe's work.[30]

In 1875, Paul Féval wrote a story starring Radcliffe as a vampire hunter, titled La Ville Vampire: Adventure Incroyable de Madame Anne Radcliffe ("City of Vampires: The Incredible Adventure of Mrs. Anne Radcliffe"), which blends fiction and history.[31] At the last minute a mysterious man on a white horse saves the day, none other than Lord Wellington fresh from the Battle of Waterloo.

Film referenceEdit

Helen McCrory plays Ann Radcliffe in the 2007 film Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen. The film depicts Radcliffe as meeting the young Jane Austen and encouraging her to pursue a literary career. No evidence exists that such a meeting ever occurred.



  1. ^ a b The British Library Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  2. ^ "Ann Radcliffe".
  3. ^ a b c d e f Chawton House Library: Ruth Facer, "Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823)", retrieved 1 December 2012.
  4. ^ Miles, Robert (2005). "Radcliffe [née Ward], Ann (1764–1823), novelist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22974. Retrieved 25 May 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Norton, Rictor (1999). Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe. London: Leicester University Press. pp. 26–33.
  6. ^ Alison Flood, Gothic fiction pioneer Ann Radcliffe may have been inspired by mother-in-law, The Guardian, 30 January 2014.
  7. ^ "The Life of Ann Radcliffe". Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  8. ^ Norton, Rictor (1999). Mistress of Udolpho: the life of Ann Radcliffe. London: Leicester University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-84714-269-6. OCLC 657392599.
  9. ^ The New Monthly magazine, 1826, Volume 16, page 115.
  10. ^ Norton, Rictor (1999). Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe. London: Leicester University Press. p. 243.
  11. ^ Ward Radcliffe, Ann (1833). The Posthumous Works of Anne Radcliffe ... To Which Is Prefixed a Memoir of the Authoress, with Extracts from her Private Journals. (Four Volumes). London: Henry Colburn. OCLC 2777722.
  12. ^ Rictor Norton (1999). Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. VII. ISBN 978-1-84714-269-6.
  13. ^ "Ann Radcliffe | English author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  14. ^ Pourteau, Leslie Katherine (1997). 'The Pride of Conscious Worth': Characterization of the Female in the Novels of Ann Radcliffe (PhD dissertation). Texas A&M University. pp. 1–9 – via ProQuest.
  15. ^ Dr. Lilia Melani. "Gothic History" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022. Retrieved 3 May 2012.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Eighteenth Century Lit, Ann Radcliffe's Gothic, The Mysteries of Udolpho: Discover the secrets within....
  17. ^ "Radcliffe, On the Supernatural, p. 1".
  18. ^ a b Miller, Adam (2016). "Ann Radcliffe's Scientific Romance". Eighteenth-Century Fiction. 28 (3): 527–545. doi:10.3138/ecf.28.3.527. ISSN 0840-6286. S2CID 170625158.
  19. ^ a b Mulvey-Roberts, Marie (2016). "Catholicism, the Gothic and the bleeding body". Dangerous bodies: Historicising the Gothic corporeal. Manchester University Press. pp. 14–51. doi:10.7228/manchester/9780719085413.003.0002. ISBN 978-0719085413. JSTOR j.ctt18pkdzg.6.
  20. ^ Hoeveler, Diane Long (2014). "Anti-Catholicism and the Gothic Ideology: Interlocking Discourse Networks". The Gothic Ideology: Religious Hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British Popular Fiction, 1780–1880. Gothic Literary Studies (1 ed.). University of Wales Press. pp. 15–50. ISBN 978-1783160488. JSTOR j.ctt9qhfdt.6.
  21. ^ Schmitt, Cannon (1994). "Techniques of Terror, Technologies of Nationality: Ann Radcliffe's the Italian". ELH. 61 (4): 853–876. doi:10.1353/elh.1994.0040. JSTOR 2873361. S2CID 161155282.
  22. ^ Mayhew, Robert J. (2002). "Latitudinarianism and the Novels of Ann Radcliffe". Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 44 (3): 273–301. doi:10.1353/tsl.2002.0015. JSTOR 40755365. S2CID 161768388.
  23. ^ Brabon, Benjamin (2006). "Surveying Ann Radcliffe's Gothic Landscapes". Literature Compass. 3 (4): 840–845. doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2006.00357.x.
  24. ^ Austen Northanger Abbey, 33–34.
  25. ^ William Baker, Critical Companion to Jane Austen: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work (Facts on File, 2007); see entry on Radcliffe, p. 578.
  26. ^ Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, eds, British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary (NY: H. W. Wilson, 1952), p. 427.
  27. ^ "Ann Radcliffe". Academic Brooklyn. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  28. ^ Samuel Rogers, Balzac and the Novel (Octagon Books, 1969), p. 21.
  29. ^ Berry, Robert. "Gothicism in Conrad and Dostoevsky". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  30. ^ Bowers, Katherine. "Dostoevsky's Gothic Blueprint: the Notebooks to The Idiot". Archived from the original on 22 October 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  31. ^ Gibson, Matthew (2013). "'A Life in Death, a Death in Life': the Legitimist Novels of Paul Féval and the Catastrophe of the Second Empire". The Fantastic and European Gothic: History, Literature and the French Revolution. ISBN 978-0-7083-2572-8.
  32. ^ Radcliffe, Ann Ward (1795). A journey made in the summer of 1794, through Holland and the western frontier of Germany, with a return down the Rhine; to which are added, observations during a tour to the lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland. Robarts - University of Toronto. London : G.G. and J. Robinson.

Further readingEdit

  • Cody, David (July 2000). "Ann Radcliffe: An Evaluation". The Victorian Web: An Overview. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  • "Ann Radcliffe". Brooklyn College English Department. 9 May 2003. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  • Norton, Rictor (1999). Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe.
  • Rogers, Deborah (1996). Ann Radcliffe: A Bio-Bibliography. ISBN 978-0-313-28379-6.
  • Rogers, Deborah. The Critical Responses to Ann Radcliffe

External linksEdit