Ann Radcliffe Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
The novel was a young genre, not yet a century old, when Ann Radcliffe began writing. She modified both its structure and its themes and established the gothic novel (the novel with a quasi-medieval setting) as a popular form. The first gothic novel, Hugh Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), had fused medieval chivalry and the ghost story, creating a fast-paced, incredible tale that drips with blood as it piles shock on shock. In Radcliffe’s more leisurely novels, which blend the gothic with the sentimental, the psychological effects of incidents take precedence over action. Her own distinctive version of the gothic novel, moralistic and rationalist, requires that sensitive heroines show their worth by their behavior during suspenseful ordeals whose mysteries prove to be rationally explicable. Radcliffe considerably developed the principle of suspense, adapting the techniques of drama to fiction more completely than had yet been achieved in the novel. Moreover, a precursor to the Romantics, she laced her prose with poetry, her own and others’, and she transformed the natural landscape into an appropriate setting for her tales.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne
In Radcliffe’s first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789), an unsuccessful, amateurishly plotted tale centered on a hero in the sixteenth century Scottish Highlands, she had not yet found her distinctive style, though she had found her favorite, if not invariable, time setting: the sixteenth century. More important, the book’s conclusion, exalting the eventual triumph of virtue in a universe ruled by divine goodness, anticipated the characteristic moral tone of her mature fiction. In the typical Radcliffe novel, a beautiful but solitary and eminently virtuous maiden undergoes persecutions amid picturesque and usually gothic surroundings, whether castle, abbey, or convent. Each time this heroine is about to reach safety, she is thrust back into danger by new ordeals. Finally, wiser for her experiences, she is rescued and marries the man she loves.
Not only does virtue, like love, triumph, but reason does as well. In the final pages of the novel, mysteries are solved—though many have already resolved themselves along the way. As one critic has aptly remarked, the appeal of Radcliffe’s books isnot intellectual but emotional. The reader is not invited to unpick a knot, but to enjoy the emotion of mystery; the knot, indeed, is not unpicked at all; at the appointed hour an incantation is breathed over it, and it dissolves.
Gaston de Blondeville
Only in Radcliffe’s posthumously published Gaston de Blondeville (1826) does an unexplained knightly ghost, returned to bring his murderer to justice, form the pivot of the plot. With its twelfth century setting, this story is told as a medieval legend rather than as a gothic fiction of supernatural terror and suspense.
A Sicilian Romance
A Sicilian Romance (1790), the first of the novels written in her characteristic mode, illustrates Radcliffe’s typical plotline. The heroine, Julia, kept secluded in a castle where mysterious lights are seen in a deserted wing, is burdened with not only a licentious stepmother but also a tyrannical marquess of a father. The marquess proposes to marry her to an evil duke instead of to her beloved. Persuaded by her brother Ferdinand and her lover Hippolitus to flee, after a desperate midnight flight through secret, underground chambers, Julia is overtaken and imprisoned; she manages to flee again to a nunnery, which the marquess besieges. In the ensuing complications, Ferdinand and Hippolitus rescue and re-rescue Julia. Finally, Julia finds her mother, supposedly dead but in fact imprisoned by her father, in a subterranean dungeon (hence the apparently supernatural lights). When her stepmother poisons the marquess and commits suicide, Julia and Hippolitus finally wed.
Radcliffe’s plotting would become more polished in later novels, inviting a readier suspension of disbelief. Even in this early novel, however, emphasis falls not on events but on their effects on characters, on the psychological torments created, especially the fear of what may happen next. Having discovered certain valuable techniques, she would perfect them in subsequent novels.
Characteristically, Radcliffe arouses fear by making use of suggestion: the sound of haunting music on the midnight air, a vanishing light, the shadow of a figure, a pregnant sigh, and the like. Night, desolation, and gloom proliferate. Versed in the aesthetic theories of her time, such as Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), she assumes that terror, not horror, expands the soul toward the sublime, and she combines terror with beauty. This combination is achieved partly through...
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Ann Radcliffe Long Fiction Analysis
The novels of Ann Radcliffe serve as a transition between the major English novelists of the eighteenth century and the first accomplished novelists of the nineteenth century. In the years between 1789 and 1797, her five novels established a style that profoundly affected English fiction for the next twenty-five years and had a considerable impact in translation as well. From the negligible first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, to the sophisticated romances, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, Radcliffe demonstrated an ability to enrich the motives, methods, and machineries of each succeeding work. Manipulating theconventions of the gothic while introducing new thematic concerns and experiments withnarrative techniques, Radcliffe became a master of her craft.
Improved control over the complex atmosphere of the gothic romance proved an early factor in Radcliffe’s success. She went beyond the traditional gothic devices of lurking ghosts and malevolent noblemen torturing innocent girls to an interest in natural description. This delight with nature’s sublime scenery gave tone and color to her settings while emphasizing the heightened emotions and imagination that were produced in reaction to the landscape. A skillful use of numerous atmospheric factors such as sunsets, storms, winds, thunderclaps, and moonlight, intensified the romantic tendencies of her time.
A scene typifying the Radcliffe concept of landscape portraiture has a ruined castle in silhouette, arranged on a stern but majestic plain at nightfall. This view does not depend on precision of outline for effect but instead on an ominous vagueness, creating in the reader an odd mixture of pleasure and fear. Her delight in the architecture of massive proportions and in the picturesque derived in part from her reading of the nature poets and her study of the paintings of Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin, and Salvator Rosa. She reflected a mid-eighteenth century English passion in cultivating an acute sensibility for discovering beauty where before it had not been perceived. While she made landscape in fiction a convention, it was her combining of beauty in horror and the horrible in the beautiful that reflected the Romantic shift away from order and reason toward emotion and imagination.
Radcliffe’s novels rely not only on strategies of terror but also on the psychology of feelings. The novels of sensibility of the past generation offered her alternatives to the gothic trappings made familiar in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto; those gothic aspects now became linked to various emotional elements in a total effect. By drawing on the poetry of Thomas Gray and Edward Young or the fiction of Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Mackenzie, Radcliffe created a minority of characters with complex natures who exhibited not only melancholy and doubt, love and joy, but also hate and evil intentions. She was one of the first English novelists to subject her characters to psychological analysis.
Of particular psychological interest are Radcliffe’s villains. Cruel, calculating, domineering, relentless, and selfish, they are more compelling than her virtuous characters. Since their passions are alien to the ordinary person, she dramatically explores the mysteries of their sinister attitudes. Radcliffe’s villains resemble those created by the Elizabethan dramatists, and their descendants can be found in the works of the great Romantics, Byron and Shelley.
At her best, Radcliffe manifested strengths not seen in her first two novels nor in her last. Her first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, exhibits the most obvious borrowings, from sources as well known as The Castle of Otranto to numerous other gothic-historical and sentimental novels. Though immature, the work offers her characteristic sense of atmosphere with the marvelous dangers and mysteries of feudal Scotland depicted to full advantage. Its weaknesses become evident all too soon, however, as stock characters populate strained, often confused incidents while mouthing rather obvious parables about morality. Didacticism seems the motivating principle of the work. As David Durant observes in Ann Radcliffe’s Novels (1980), “The characters are so controlled by didactic interests as to be faceless and without personality.” The rigid obligations of The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne to the morality of sentimental novels, the uniformity of a neoclassical prose style, and the repetitious, predictable action of the romance plot, trap Radcliffe into a mechanical performance.
A Sicilian Romance
Radcliffe’s second novel, A Sicilian Romance, has a new strategy, an emphasis on action and adventure while subordinating moral concerns. This approach, however, was not effective because of the obvious imbalance between the two methods, and characterization suffered before a mass of incident. The interest in fear was expanded throughout the tale as a long-suffering wife, imprisoned in the remote sections of a huge castle by a villainous nobleman (who has an attachment to a beautiful paramour), struggles helplessly until rescued, after much suspense, by her gentle daughter and the young girl’s lover. The characters’ shallowness is hidden by a chase sequence of overwhelming speed that prevents one from noticing their deficiencies. To dramatize the movement of plot, Radcliffe introduced numerous settings, offering the reader a complete vision of the Romantic landscape.
Though A Sicilian Romance lacks the sureness of technique of the later novels and remains a lesser product, it did establish Radcliffe’s ingenuity and perseverance. It was followed by the three novels on which her reputation rests: The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and The Italian. Radcliffe’s last novel, the posthumous Gaston de Blondeville, which was probably never meant for publication, exhibits the worst faults of the two earliest romances. Lifeless characters abound in a narrative overloaded with tedious historical facts and devoid of any action. In reconstructing history, Radcliffe was influenced by Scott but clearly was out of her element in attempting to make history conform to her own preconceptions. The primary innovation was the introduction of a real ghost to the love story. This...
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Radcliffe, Ann (1764 - 1823)
ANN RADCLIFFE (1764 - 1823)
(Born Ann Ward) English novelist, poet, and journal writer.
Considered one of the most important writers of the English Gothic tradition, Radcliffe transformed the Gothic novel from a mere vehicle for the depiction of terror into an instrument for exploring the psychology of fear and suspense. Her emphasis on emotion, perception, and the relationship between atmosphere and sensibility helped pave the way for the Romantic movement in England. Radcliffe's best-known novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), ranks as one of the chief exemplars of the Gothic genre.
Radcliffe was born in London. A shy child afflicted with asthma, she read widely. Though she was given private instruction in the classics, literature, painting, and drawing, Radcliffe received little encouragement from her parents to continue her studies. As a young woman, Radcliffe associated with the "bluestockings" Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Hester Lynch Piozzi, who, biographers believe, provided her with inspiration and intellectual stimulation. In 1787 she married William Radcliffe, later the editor of the English Chronicle, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to begin writing novels.
Although Radcliffe was the most popular English novelist of her generation, she managed to avoid publicity almost entirely. In fact, when Christina Rossetti attempted to write a biography of Radcliffe in 1883, she was forced to abandon the project because of the lack of available information. For unknown reasons Radcliffe withdrew entirely from public life in 1817 at the peak of her fame. Her absence triggered a series of rumors, the most widespread being that she had suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the terrors described in her own works. Sir Walter Scott speculated that she stopped writing because she abhorred the manner in which her imitators had cheapened and sentimentalized the Gothic novel. Obituaries appeared in newspapers on the supposition that Radcliffe had died. Also in circulation were legends that Radcliffe had died in an insane asylum and that her ghost returned to haunt her imitators.
Radcliffe's first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story (1789), made a negligible impression upon readers and reviewers alike. A historical romance set in Scotland, the novel abounds in the picturesque description and dark atmosphere that was to become Radcliffe's trademark. Yet it was criticized for its abundance of anachronisms, especially imposing upon feudal heroines a distinctively nineteenth-century sensibility. A Sicilian Romance (1790), Radcliffe's next work, established her reputation as the preeminent Gothic novelist. Here the distinctive features of Radcliffe's style emerge more fully: the use of landscape to create a mood of terror, mystery, and suspense, intricacy of plot, a lyrical prose style, and a focus on individual psychology. The Romance of the Forest (1791), and The Mysteries of Udolpho, her first signed work, strengthened her popularity and made her a best-selling author in England, the United States, and Europe. The Mysteries of Udolpho contains all of the classic Gothic elements, including a haunted castle, a troubled heroine, a mysterious and menacing male figure, and hidden secrets of the past. The most prominent theme in Udolpho is the triumph of virtue over villainy: a characteristic of all the novels by Radcliffe, who was a devout Christian. Montoni, who squanders his fortunes and turns to illegal and deadly means to win them back, is eventually imprisoned, while Emily, though she endures many trying adventures, maintains her moral principles and eventually finds happiness. Related to this theme is the importance of balance and moderation, which Emily's father teaches her. It is when Emily allows herself to go to emotional extremes, becoming imbalanced, that she suffers most. Also present in the story is Emily's search for truth and need to uncover the secrets at Udolpho and the Villeroi chateau. Another theme is the inescapable past. Many of the characters are haunted by their past, as Emily is; although the mysteries of Udolpho are eventually resolved, there is still a sense of an inescapable haunting that follows the characters. A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (1795) details Radcliffe's first trip outside of England. The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797), a Gothic mystery which is considered by some to be Radcliffe's best novel, traces the machinations of the monk Schedoni, who became a prototypical Gothic hero—brooding, mysterious, and fascinating.
Critics have speculated on the various influences upon Radcliffe's style, noting the similarities between her landscapes and the paintings of the Neapolitan painter and poet Salvator Rosa and the French landscape painter Claude Lorrain. Critics also note that her linking of terror and beauty corresponds with Edmund Burke's philosophy of the sublime and that her poetry resembles that of William Collins, James Thomson, Thomas Gray, and James Macpherson. In addition, Radcliffe's motif of the heroine in distress indicates a knowledge of sentimental novelists such as Charlotte Smith, although her works most often appear to be modeled upon the works of Horace Walpole. The primary distinguishing feature of Radcliffe's style is her explained endings. After elaborately setting up a mystery, planting the seeds of supernatural agency, and piquing the reader's curiosity, Radcliffe invariably resolves her plots in a rational and orderly way, providing reasoned explanations for seemingly supernatural events. Whether they praise or criticize her for this practice, critics cite this as Radcliffe's distinctive contribution to the development of the English novel.
The Mysteries of Udolpho was both an extremely popular and critically acclaimed novel when it was first published and for many years after. Readers enjoyed Radcliffe's gift for description and her deftness at building dramatic tension throughout the story. She was acknowledged by critics of her time as the queen of the Gothic novel, and she was also considered a pioneer of the Romantic movement. With her popularity, however, also came a wide array of imitators who shamelessly—and often poorly—copied her style, plots, and characters. It was because of these lesser writers that Radcliffe's works often suffered by association. Her work was sometimes satirized, too, most famously in Jane Austen's 1818 novel, Northanger Abbey.
Overall, early critical response to Radcliffe's works was mixed: while Samuel Taylor Coleridge attacked her explained endings for their inadequacy in satisfying the expectations of the reader, Sir Walter Scott called her "the first poetess of romantic fiction" for her natural descriptions. Other contemporary critics assessed her explanations as tedious, her dialogue as wooden, and her characters as flat, while some praised her brilliant rhetorical style, her examination of fear, and her affirmation of moral order at the conclusion of each novel. Thomas Noon Talfourd (see Further Reading) attributed Radcliffe's anticlimactic endings to her obedience to the conventions of the Gothic novel. He proposed that Radcliffe determined that the conventions of romance did not allow for supernatural agency, and that she therefore felt bound to explain it away. Virginia Woolf (see Further Reading) disputed Talfourd by assert-ing that Radcliffe's novels were remarkably free from convention. At the turn of the century, Walter Raleigh (see Further Reading) enlarged the popular understanding of Radcliffe by noting her role as a predecessor of the Romantic movement in England. Wylie Sypher's Marxist analysis (see Further Reading) delineated the novels' simultaneously bourgeois and anti-bourgeois tendencies, which he considered hypocritical. On the whole, Radcliffe's works received very little critical attention until the late 1950s, when Devendra P. Varma's overview of her novels again spurred curiosity about her work. The 1960s and 1970s reflected this surge of renewed interest. Critics have pursued new approaches to defining the role of description in Radcliffe's works; the extent and intent of her preoccupation with the realm of irrational behavior have been debated extensively, and recent critics have analyzed Udolpho from feminist and psychological standpoints and offer scholarly considerations of Emily's character. Udolpho has also been considered in terms of its sensual subtext and Emily's growing sense of her sexuality. In this new light, the novel has gained greater appreciation among modern literary commentators. Such writers as William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Anne and Emily Brontë, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lord Byron (who used Schedoni as the model for the Byronic hero), admired Radcliffe's exploration of extreme emotional states and adapted her techniques in their own works. Most critics now view Radcliffe as a key figure in the Gothic tradition who freed the collective English literary imagination from conventional and rational constraints and ushered in English Romanticism.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story [published anonymously] (novel) 1789
A Sicilian Romance. 2 vols. [published anonymously] (novel) 1790
The Romance of the Forest: Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry. 3 vols. [published anonymously] (novel) 1791
The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry. 4 vols. (novel) 1794
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 (travel essays) 1795
The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents. A Romance. 3 vols. (novel) 1797
Gaston de Blondeville; or, The Court of Henry III. Keeping Festival in Ardenne, A Romance. St. Alban's Abbey, A Metrical Tale; With Some Poetical Pieces. To Which Is Prefixed a Memoir of the Author (novel and poetry) 1826
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SOURCE: Radcliffe, Ann. "The Haunted Chamber." In Gothic Tales of Terror, Volume One: Classic Horror Stories from Great Britain, edited by Peter Haining. 1972. Reprint edition, pp. 49-67. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books Inc., 1973.
The following excerpt is from an episode of Radcliffe's novel The Mysteries of Udolpho, first published in 1794.
The Provençal Tale
There lived, in the province of Bretagne, a noble baron, famous for his magnificence and courtly hospitalities. His castle was graced with ladies of exquisite beauty, and thronged with illustrious knights; for the honour he paid to feats...
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SOURCE: Radcliffe, Ann. "On the Supernatural in Poetry." New Monthly Magazine 16 (1826): 145-52.
In the following excerpt from a fictional conversation between two travelers, Radcliffe presents a distinction between horror and terror.
[Said W―:] "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. I apprehend, that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a...
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SOURCE: Miall, David S. "The Preceptor as Fiend: Radcliffe's Psychology of the Gothic." In Jane Austen and Mary Shelley and Their Sisters, edited by Laura Dabundo, pp. 31-43. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 2000.
In the following essay, Miall considers Radcliffe's treatment of women's education in her works.
From the perspective of the 1990s, we might regard the Britain of the 1790s as marked by a pervasive neurosis of the social order. Nowhere is this more evident than in the position assigned to women, who were subjected to a range of legal and social disabilities. Although these disabilities were not new to...
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SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (REVIEW DATE AUGUST 1794)
SOURCE: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. A review of Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. Critical Review (August 1794): 361-72.
In the following excerpt from a review of The Mysteries of Udolpho, Coleridge faults the work as a substandard effort, compared to Radcliffe's earlier literary achievements.
[The Mysteries of Udolpho does not] require the name of its author to ascertain that it comes from the same hand [that produced The Romance of the Forest]. The same powers of description are displayed, the same predilection is...
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SOURCE: Williams, Anne. “The Eighteenth-Century Psyche: The Mysteries of Udolpho.” In Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic, pp. 159-72. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
In the following essay, Williams argues that in The Mysteries of Udolpho “Radcliffe’s romance conventions, which generate the Female Gothic tradition, embody the myth of Psyche and an alternative to Oedipus.”
“O! do not go in there, ma’amselle,” said Annette, “you will only lose yourself further.”
“Bring the light forward,” said Emily, “we may possibly find our way through these rooms.”...
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Anderson, Howard. "Gothic Heroes." In The English Hero, 1660–1800, edited by Robert Folkenflik, pp. 205-21. Newark, Del. and London: University of Delaware Press and Associated University Press, 1982.
Analyzes the male characters in The Mysteries of Udolpho and measures their complexity and traits versus the men in such works as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk, and Radcliffe's The Italian.
Castle, Terry. "The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho." In The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English...
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Radcliffe, Ann (Ward)
Ann (Ward) Radcliffe 1764-1823
(Born Ann Ward) English novelist, poet, and journalist.
For further information on Radcliffe's works and career, see .
Considered the most important writer of the English Gothic school, Radcliffe transformed the Gothic novel from a mere vehicle for the depiction of terror into an instrument for exploring the psychology of fear and suspense. Her emphasis on emotion, perception, and the relationship between atmosphere and sensibility helped pave the way for the Romantic movement in England. Radcliffe's best-known novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), ranks as one of the chief exemplars of the Gothic genre.
Radcliffe was born in London to a lower-middle class family. Afflicted with asthma from childhood, she was reserved and read widely. Though her parents had given her an education that was typical for a young lady of her class in the nineteenth century, they did not encourage her to continue her studies. But as a young woman, Radcliffe associated with the bluestockings Lady Mary Wortley Montague and Hester Lynch Piozzi, who, it is believed, inspired and stimulated her intellectually. In 1787, she married William Radcliffe, later editor of the English Chronicle, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to begin writing novels. It was not many years before she became the most popular novelist of her generation in England. But Radcliffe shunned most publicity; sixty years after the novelist's death, Christina Rossetti would attempt to write her biography and would be unable to find enough information about her subject to complete it. In 1817, at the peak of her fame, Radcliffe withdrew entirely from public life. Perhaps, as Sir Walter Scott believed, she stopped writing out of disgust with tawdry and maudlin imitators who were trivializing the Gothic novel. Her own poor health, her husband's illness, and the deaths of both her parents may also have played a role; moreover, her inheritance from her parents made her financially independent, so that she no longer had to write for income. Radcliffe's virtual disappearance triggered rumors of a nervous breakdown and wild stories that she had died in an insane asylum and that her imitators were haunted by her ghost. These rumors, unchecked, eventuated in premature obituaries appearing in various newspapers.
Radcliffe's first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story (1789), made no impression on readers or reviewers. Though the novel had plenty of the picturesque description and dark atmospherics that would become her trademark, it was Radcliffe's next work, A Sicilian Romance (1790), that earned her critical attention and respect. In this novel, the distinctive features of her style ripened: the use of landscape to create a mood of terror, mystery, and suspense; intricacy of plot; a lyrical prose style; and a focus on individual psychology. Critics have noted that Radcliffe's linking of terror and beauty corresponds to Edmund Burke's philosophy of the sublime. Her standard motif of the heroine in distress shows an acquaintance with sentimental novelists such as Charlotte Smith, but her most direct literary precedent can be found in the Gothic writings of Horace Walpole. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Radcliffe's style is her explained endings. Once she has elaborately set up a mystery, hinting at supernatural agency and piquing the reader's curiosity, Radcliffe invariably resolves her plots in a rational and orderly way, providing reasoned explanations for ostensibly supernatural events. Not all critics have praised this feature of her style, but it is generally agreed that this is one of her major contributions to the English novel. Radcliffe's next two novels, The Romance of the Forest (1791) and The Mysteries of Udolpho, firmly established her reputation and popularity as England's preeminent Gothic novelist and as a best-selling author in the United States and Europe as well as in England. In 1797, she published The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents, considered by some to be her best novel. Its principal villain, the monk Schedoni, is often seen as a forerunner of the Byronic hero—brooding, mysterious, and fascinating. Radcliffe's last novel, Gaston de Blondeville; or, The Court of Henry III. Keeping Festival in Ardenne (1826), was published posthumously and never enjoyed the success of her earlier novels.
Early critical response to Radcliffe's novels was mixed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge complained that her explained endings frustrated the reader's expectations; other detractors found her explanations tedious, her style wooden, and her characters flat. Sir Walter Scott, however, called Radcliffe "the first poetess of romantic fiction" for her elaborate natural descriptions, and others praised her brilliant rhetorical style, her examination of the psychology of fear, and her affirmation of the moral order in concluding each novel. Thomas Noon Talfourd argued that Radcliffe's anticlimactic endings were merely in keeping with the canons of the Gothic style, whose conventions, Radcliffe believed, excluded the genuinely supernatural. At the turn of the century, Walter Raleigh helped to enhance critical understanding of Radcliffe by pointing out her influence on the English Romantic movement. Later, Virginia Woolf disputed Talfourd, arguing that Radcliffe was remarkably free from convention.
In the 1940s Wylie Sypher introduced a radically new critical approach to Radcliffe, applying a Marxist analysis to her works and finding in them conflicting bourgeois and anti-bourgeois tendencies. Radcliffe attracted little other critical attention until the late 1950s, when D. P. Varma's overview of her novels excited a fresh curiosity about her works. Some of this new interest, on the part of such critics as Nelson C. Smith and Robert Kiely, focused on the extent and purpose of Radcliffe's preoccupation with the irrational. Feminist studies by such critics as Ellen Moers, Coral Ann Howells, and Patricia Spacks examined the psychology and sociology of Radcliffe's heroines and their specifically female consciousness. There is general agreement now that Radcliffe novels do not strictly adhere to the Gothic conventions. Radcliffe often exceeded or even undermined the conventional limits of the Gothic, either by a kind of moral didacticism that elevates the Gothic by broadening its scope, as Kate Ellis has suggested, or by a satiric use of certain conventions, as argued by D. L. Macdonald. Many critics, like Kim Michasiw and Mary Fawcett, have examined relationships of power between men and women in Radcliffe's novels as well as the prevailing social and political institutions inside and outside the novel, which set the conditions for the characters' actions and for the text itself. Comparisons of Radcliffe's novels with those of other female novelists outside the Gothic tradition, such as Fanny Burney and Jane Austen, have also helped increase critical understanding of Radcliffe's work. Today, Radcliffe is generally regarded as an influential writer and a key figure in the movement that freed the imagination from conventional and rationalistic constraints, helping to usher in English Romanticism.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story (novel) 1789
A Sicilian Romance (novel) 1790
The Romance of the Forest (novel) 1791
The Mysteries of Udolpho (novel) 1794
A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (journal) 1795
The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents (novel) 1797
The Poems of A. Radcliffe (poetry) 1815
The Novels of Ann Radcliffe. 10 vols. (novels) 1821-24
Gaston de Blondeville; or, The Court of Henry III. Keeping Festival in Ardenne. St. Alban's Abbey: A Metrical Tale, with Some Poetical Pieces (novel and poetry) 1826
SOURCE: "Udolpho's Primal Mystery," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 23, No. 3, Summer, 1983, pp. 481-94.
[In this essay, Fawcett discusses how symbols used in The Mysteries of Udolpho reveal to the reader the world of 1790s England and especially the condition of sexuality, in a way that confirms Blake's verdict that contemporary love is crippled by the struggle between desire and restraint.]
In Ann Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, a daughter wishes to know the secrets of her father's past and to understand events which occurred twenty years ago, at the time of her own birth, but which her father has, on his...
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SOURCE: "Mrs. Radcliffe's Landscapes: The Eye and the Fancy," in The University of Windsor Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, Fall-Winter, 1984, pp. 7-19.
[In this essay, Murrah discusses how Radcliffe's reflective verbal pictures found in her published Journey serve as an introduction to her use of imaginative description of nature in her fiction.]
Only fifteen years ago, it was still possible to say of Ann Radcliffe that her immense popularity in her own day had not at all survived the early nineteenth century and that only the literary historian or the fancier of fictional oddities continued to appreciate her works. But since that time our contemporary Romantic Movement...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Romance of the Forest, by Ann Radcliffe, edited by Chloe Chard, Oxford University Press, 1986, pp. vii-xxiv.
[In the following essay Chard introduces the general features of this early work of Radcliffe's. In addition to discussing the novel's genre, immediate critical reception, and place in literary history, Chard compares The Romance of the Forest to Radcliffe's later work in terms of her use of plot, characterization, and description.]
Adeline, the heroine of The Romance of the Forest, is portrayed, towards the middle of the novel, reading an old and partially illegible manuscript which she has found in a concealed...
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SOURCE: "Bathos and Repetition: The Uncanny in Radcliffe," in The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 19, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 197-204.
[In this essay, Macdonald uses the critical theories of Tzvetan Todorov that relate to Gothic romance to maintain that Radcliffe, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, uses the fantastic satirically and with a didactic purpose.]
The defining characteristic of the fantastic as a literary genre, according to Tzvetan Todorov, is the hesitation or uncertainty it produces in the reader (and sometimes in the characters) as to the fictional reality of supernatural phenomena [The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre,...
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SOURCE: "'Kidnapped Romance' in Ann Radcliffe," in The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology, University of Illinois Press, 1989, pp. 99-128.
[In the following excerpt, Ellis suggests that in her Gothic novels Radcliffe elevates the character of romance by using the fanciful conventions of the Gothic tradition as a means of addressing the real problems encountered by a young lady or gentleman entering the world in the eighteenth century.]
The novels of Ann Radcliffe offer something new to the Gothic tradition still in formation. Working in the domain of romance, which had less prestige even than the novel, she transformed the features...
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SOURCE: "'The Great Enchantress': Ann Radcliffe," in The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing, and Fiction 1660-1800, Virago Press Limited, 1989, pp. 253-72.
[In the following excerpt, Todd provides a detailed overview of Radcliffe's novels and discusses the traits that distinguish her from both her eighteenth-century predecessors, such as Samuel Richardson, and her nineteenth-century successors and contemporaries, such as Mary Wollstonecraft.]
Mrs Radcliffe came into the public consciousness with her third novel, The Romance of the Forest, in 1791. This was followed in 1794 by The Mysteries of Udolpho and in 1797 by The Italian....
(The entire section is 8800 words.)
SOURCE: "Fathers and Daughters: Ann Radcliffe," in Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels, The University of Chicago Press, 1990, pp. 147-74.
[In the following excerpt, Spacks argues that Radcliffe bases the structure of her fiction on the "moral implications of [Edmund] Burke's theory of the sublime."]
In Radcliffe's novels . . . literal or metaphoric tensions between fathers and daughters suggest a way to understand the new kind of plot that [Fanny Burney's] Evelina introduced. Radcliffe's plots might be called "daughters' plots"—not simply because they originate in a female consciousness, but because they establish internal...
(The entire section is 10837 words.)
SOURCE: "Ann Radcliffe and the Terrors of Power," in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 6, No. 4, July, 1994, pp. 327-46.
[In the following essay, Michasiw discusses the ways in which individual characters in Radcliffe's novels struggle with other characters and with the political and social institutions that define and determine the limits of power relations. In particular, he focuses on ways in which terror becomes not only an irrational response to illusory horrors in the story, but also a rational response to personal and institutional abuses of power.]
Late in Ann Radcliffe's last novel, Gaston de Blondeville, the narrator pauses to consider the burdens of...
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Anderson, Howard. "Gothic Heroes." In The English Hero, 1660 to 1800, edited by Robert Folkenflik, pp. 205-21. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1982, 230 p.
Examines the variety of heroes in Gothic romances, particularly in the works of Radcliffe, Horace Walpole, and Matthew Lewis.
Benedict, Barbara M. "Pictures of Conformity: Sentiment and Structure in Ann Radcliffe's Style." Philological Quarterly 68, No. 3 (Summer 1989): 363-77.
An examination of Radcliffe's style that reveals the relationship between her rationalism and her preoccupation with the emotions and imagination of terror....
(The entire section is 1847 words.)