Ann Ward Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

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.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ann Radcliffe was born Ann Ward on July 9, 1764, in Holborn, a borough of central London, the only child of William Ward and Ann Oates Ward. Her father was a successful haberdasher who provided the family with a comfortable life, allowing Radcliffe access to a well-stocked library and the time to read the works of every important English author, as well as numerous popular romances.

This quiet, sheltered existence was enlivened by the visits of Radcliffe’s wealthy and learned uncle, Thomas Bentley, who was the partner of Josiah Wedgwood, the potter. Bentley’s London home was a center for the literati; there, among others, the pretty but shy girl met Hester L. Thrale Piozzi, the friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson; Elizabeth Montagu, “Queen of the Blue-Stocking Club”; and “Athenian” Stuart.

In 1772, Radcliffe joined her parents at Bath, where her father had opened a shop for the firm of Wedgwood and Bentley. She remained sequestered in this resort until her marriage to the young Oxford graduate, William Radcliffe, in 1788. William had first decided to become a law student at one of the Inns of Court but abandoned this for a career in journalism. The couple moved to London soon thereafter, where William subsequently became proprietor and editor of the English Chronicle. The marriage was happy but childless, and the couple’s circle of friends were primarily literary, which added encouragement to William’s argument that his wife should begin to write.

With her husband away on editorial business, Radcliffe spent the evenings writing without interruption. Her first book, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, was unremarkable, but her next two novels established her reputation as a master of suspense and the supernatural. A Sicilian Romance and The Romance of the Forest attracted the public’s voracious appetite for romances. Both works were translated into French and Italian, and numerous editions were published, as well as a dramatization of The Romance of the Forest, performed in 1794. Radcliffe’s success culminated in the appearance of The Mysteries of Udolpho; her decision to rely less on external action and more on psychological conflict...

(The entire section is 920 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ann Ward Radcliffe was considered the greatest romanticist of her age, both for her imaginative plotting and for her poetic prose. Her novels became a minor landmark in English literary history because their author formulated a gothic school of writing that owed more to her invention than to the influence of contemporaries in the same genre. Her tales of terror are unblurred by the awkward supernaturalism of Horace Walpole, the sentimentality of Clara Reeves, or the turgid horrors of Matthew Gregory Lewis.{$S[A]Ward Radcliffe, Ann;Radcliffe, Ann}

Ann Ward, who included among her ancestors the celebrated classical scholar Dr. S. Jebb, was stimulated by her wide reading as a child, and even then she delighted in daydreams of things supernatural. She was, however, a shy, asthmatic girl, isolated in a society of adults, and she was not encouraged to exercise her abilities or to express herself. At the age of twenty-three she married William Radcliffe, who became the editor of the English Chronicle. It was while living in London, where she was intimate with literary people, that she began to write. Her first book, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, went almost unnoticed, but her second, A Sicilian Romance, established her as a brilliant writer of suspense and description. With The Romance of the Forest, published in 1791, she attracted the attention of a wide reading public. For the publication of her fourth novel,...

(The entire section is 410 words.)