Friday, 7 February 2014

Ann Radcliffe, Purveyor of the Gothic

Ann Radcliffe (née Ann Ward; London, England, 9th July 1764 - London, England, 7th February 1823)

First edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho

Today we welcome a famed author to the salon in the form of Ann Radcliffe, one of my favourites. Radcliffe was a reclusive sort of lady and one likes to imagine her suitably ensconced in the Gothic towers shrouded by fog and mystery, as befitting a lady of such tastes. 

However, reality was much more down to earth and Radcliffe was the daughter of haberdasher William Ward and Ann Oates. She married journalist William Radcliffe at the age of 23 and to entertain herself during his long working days, began to write works of fiction that she read to him each evening.

The couple had no children and enjoyed a happy marriage together, with William supporting and encouraging his wife's successes as her six Gothic novels gained her recognition and plaudits, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho. Radcliffe specialised in apparently supernatural plots that eventually succumbed to rational explanation and she was a favourite of Walter Scott, as well as providing the foundations for parody upon which Jane Austen crafted Northanger Abbey.

Travelling through Europe in 1784 with William and their dog, Chance, Radcliffe chronicled her experiences and published them in a collected work before, finally, retiring from Gothic literature in dissatisfaction at the direction the genre was taking under the likes of Matthew "Monk" Lewis. She devoted herself to poetry, her retirement financed by the money she had made as a novelist. However, her seclusion led to rumours that the author had become insane, and as she remained unseen in society, these rumours gathered pace and strength.

Radcliffe died of an asthma attack in 1823, leaving behind a rich legacy of literary gothic.


  1. Two things struck me about this. Firstly she has just reiterated the amazing fact that life provides us with so much inspiration for the fictions we write and, secondly, that there is this fine line between creativity and insanity! I couldn't help being reminded of Virginia Woolf in some distant respect.

    1. Indeed, yes; and, of course, our old friend, Mary Shelley.