(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ann Radcliffe, who created a readership for moralizing tales of terror and horror, influenced not only a host of forgotten imitators but also several great writers of the Romantic period and a number of later nineteenth century novelists. Radcliffe refined the crude sensationalism of the gothic novel so that it became a vehicle for sensibility, the sublime, and the picturesque. In place of fast-paced and blood-spattered action, Radcliffean gothic characteristically created psychological tension and suspense, while avoiding the incredible. Though retaining many conventional props of the gothic novel, Radcliffe minimized their significance, being more concerned with moral tests for her heroines. She also enriched her narratives with landscape descriptions.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Ann Radcliffe published A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 Through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (1795). It recounts a continental journey made with her husband and includes copious observations of other tours to the English Lake District. The work became immediately popular, prompting a second edition, The Journeys of Mrs. Radcliffe, published the same year. Following a common practice of romance writers, Radcliffe interspersed the lengthy prose passages of her novels with her own verses or with those from famous poets. An anonymous compiler took the liberty of collecting and publishing her verses in an unauthorized edition titled The Poems of Ann Radcliffe (1816). This slim volume was reissued in 1834 and 1845. Radcliffe’s interest in versifying was increasingly evident when her husband, in arranging for the posthumous publication of Gaston de Blondeville, included with it a long metrical romance, St. Alban’s Abbey (1826). Radcliffe also wrote an essay, “On the Supernatural in Poetry,” which was published in New Monthly Magazine (1826). The record of her literary achievement still remains available, as all of her novels and the poems are in print.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ann Radcliffe’s fame as a novelist in modern times in no way compares to the popularity she enjoyed in the 1790’s. With the publication of her third novel, The Romance of the Forest, this relatively unknown woman established herself as the best-selling writer of the period, receiving rave reviews from the critics and increasing demand for her works from circulating libraries.

Radcliffe’s five gothic romances, published between 1789 and 1797, owed a portion of their motivation to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765) and two earlier gothic writers, Sophia Lee and Clara Reeve. The gothic tale reached its full development with Radcliffe’s ability to manipulate the emotions of love and fear in such a manner as to provoke terror in her characters and readers alike. Though managing an effective use of the little understood complexities of the imagination, she offered her readers stereotyped plots, characters, and settings. Her disguises of foreign characters and lands were as thin as the supernatural illusions that often seemed anticlimactic in their emotional appeal. These weaknesses did not deter Radcliffe’s public, who remained fascinated by her distinctive brand of romanticism, which combined the gloomy darkening vale of the more somber poets of the graveyard school, the extremes of imaginative sensibility (as in Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling, 1771), and the medieval extravagance of the Ossianic poems...

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Dekker, George G. The Fictions of Romantic Tourism: Radcliffe, Scott, and Mary Shelley. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2005. Discusses the importance of British Romanticism to Radcliffe’s work and argues that her fiction represents a sort of “spiritual tourism.”

McIntyre, Clara Frances. Ann Radcliffe in Relation to Her Time. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1920. Reprint. New York: Archon Books, 1970. Useful study of Radcliffe that reviews the facts of her life and surveys her work. Presents contemporary estimates of her novels, considers the novels’ sources, and lists their translations and dramatizations.

Miles, Robert. Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1995. Explores the historical and aesthetic context of Radcliffe’s fiction, with separate chapters on her early works and mature novels. Miles also considers Radcliffe’s role as a woman writer and her place in society. Includes notes and bibliography.

Murray, E. B. Ann Radcliffe. New York: Twayne, 1972. Surveys Radcliffe’s life, drawing from her A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 Through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany to illustrate her novels’ geography. Examines the background of the gothic, with its supernatural elements, sentiment and sensibility, and sense of the sublime and the picturesque. Includes notes, a selected annotated bibliography, and an index.

Norton, Rictor. The Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe. New York: Leicester University Press, 1999. An important scholarly study of Radcliffe’s life, attempting to fill in the many gaps in previous biographies.

Rogers, Deborah D., ed. The Critical Response to Ann Radcliffe. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. A good selection of critical essays on Radcliffe. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Smith, Nelson C. The Art of the Gothic: Ann Radcliffe’s Major Novels. New York: Arno Press, 1980. Contains a valuable introduction which reviews the scholarship on Radcliffe between 1967 and 1980. Analyzes the narrative techniques used to craft the gothic tale, and surveys the gothic writers who followed Radcliffe. Includes end notes for each chapter and a bibliography.