Little is known for certain about Ann Radcliffe’s life. She was born Ann Ward on July 9, 1764, in London, the daughter of a successful haberdasher. In 1772, her family moved to Bath, where she may have attended a school for young ladies operated by the novelist Sophia Lee.
In 1787 she married William Radcliffe, a parliamentary reporter and later the owner-editor of the English Chronicle. Though childless, the marriage appears to have been happy, and William encouraged her writing. In 1794, the couple made a tour of the Continent, and she published a report of their travels in 1795.
By the time Radcliffe’s third novel was published, in 1791, she had attained a vast popularity, but although she was the leading modern novelist, she lived out of the public eye. At the height of her career, she decided to publish no more novels, possibly because she objected to the resulting notoriety. In addition, her imitators had added a strain of sensuality to their fiction antipathetic to her. Having by now received a legacy that made her financially independent, she could afford to stop writing. In 1816, however, she published a volume of poems. Radcliffe died on February 7, 1823.