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Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe was not born into a wealthy family of privilege; her parents worked hard to support themselves and their child. There were several elements in her early years that perhaps influenced her into writing. Ann Ward, an only child, was born in 1764 in London to parents of moderate means. She was still a child when the family relocated to Bath to manage a Wedgwood showroom. Bath was an important city, and the young Ann, with her childlike, wide-open eyes, could not help be influenced by the energy of this bustling city. Whilst living in Bath, Ann is believed to have attended a school run by Harriet and Sophia Lee, who were innovators in the development and writing of Gothic drama and fiction. When Ann was 23, she married William Radcliffe, publisher of the English Chronicle, in 1787, and he encouraged his wife to write. Ann Radcliffe, who had no children, apparently wasted no time and got to work, publishing her first novel in 1789. Generally, it is acknowledged that Horace Walpoles novella The Castle of Otranto (1765) was the first Gothic-style piece of writing. Next came Clara Reeves novel The Old English Baron (1777). Gothic was originally a derogatory term referring to Medieval Europe and its barbarism. Gothic novels generally had similar elements: - Medieval settings, though Ann Radcliffes works were set in the 17th century; - A Gothic castle or abbey; - Periods of supernatural terror or supernatural, horrifying apparitions; - A victimized, usually kidnapped, woman, often with the threat of incest hanging over her;
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- A love relationship (romantic in the contemporary sense); - From Ann Radcliffe, vivid descriptions of landscapes and weather; Gothic was actually a style of architecture and writing, and Ann Radcliffe successfully combined both elements into her novels. In Ann Radcliffes time, the Gothic style was dubbed the hobgoblin-romance, the Terrorist System of Novel Writing and later, as a tribute to the influence of Mrs. Radcliffe (as she became known to generations of readers), the Radcliffe romance. Ann Radcliffes first two novels, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789), and A Sicilian Romance (1790) were published anonymously and received some favourable reviews. The Romance of the Forest (1791) established Ann Radcliffes reputation as the great enchantress and set a new standard and voice for this sort of novel, vastly different from more explicit scenes of Gothic sex and violence, as in Mathew Lewis The Monk (1795). The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) was filled with rich descriptions of people and idyllic settings, and also analyses of the characters: Yet, amidst the changing visions of life, his principles remained unshaken, his benevolence unchilled; and he retired from the multitude more in pity than in anger to scenes of simple nature, to the pure delights of literature, and to the exercise of domestic virtues. The Italian (1797) further supported her reputation. The novel Gaston de Blondeville and a narrative poem called St. Albans Abbey were published posthumously in 1826. Ann Radcliffe was an enthusiastic traveller, and she wrote a book about her travels in 1794 and 1795, but it is as a Gothic novelist that she is best known and remembered. Despite her fame, Ann Radcliffe managed to live a mostly private life. She suffered from asthma, and died of an attack in 1823. Ann Radcliffes novels included poetry, much of which was written by Ann Radcliffe herself, eerie settings, and sometimes almost painfully beautiful descriptions of landscapes and people. A song/poem called The Glow-Worm from The Mysteries of Udolpho: How pleasant is the green-woods deep-matted shade On a mid-summers eve, when the fresh rain is oer, When the yellow beams slope, and sparkle thro the glade, And swiftly in the thin air the light swallows soar! But sweeter, sweeter still, when the sun sinks to rest, And twilight comes on, with the fairies so gay Tripping through the forest-walk, where flowrs, unprest, Bow not their tall heads beneath their frolic play. From The Romance of the Forest, Ann Radcliffe describes the abbey which the
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forlorn travelling party found on a dark night in unknown woods: He approached, and perceived the Gothic remains of an abbey: it stood on a kind of rude lawn, overshadowed by high and spreading trees, which seemed coeval with the building, and diffused a romantic gloom around. The greater part of the pile appeared to be sinking into ruins, and that, which had withstood the ravages of time, showed the remaining features of the fabric more awful in decay. A nature description from The Mysteries of Udolpho: It was a still and beautiful night, the sky was unobscured by any cloud, and scarce a leaf of the woods beneath trembled in the air. As she listened, the mid-night hymn of the monks rose softly from a chapel, that stood on one of the lower cliffs, an holy strain, that seemed to ascend through the silence of night to heaven, and her thoughts ascended with it. These three examples illustrate Ann Radcliffes distinctive style, a style which set her apart from other writers of her time and won her a distinguished reputation. However, her style went out of vogue in the 1820s, although she was a strong influence on Dickens and Thackeray. Today, with a renewed interest in Gothic writing, she is deemed one of the most important authors after Henry Fielding and before Jane Austen.