Classic Author Focus: Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe

When I asked for suggestions for the classic author to feature next, one of the first responses was from Jillian, who suggested Ann Radcliffe as being appropriate for the season. I thought so, too.

Not much is known about her life, however. I found more about her influence on literature. She was notable for combining the gothic novel, which had been around for a couple of hundred years, with the novel of sensibility, more what we would think of as a romance novel. (At the time, gothic novels were considered romances, with a different meaning to the word “romance” than it has now.) Her novels focused on a proper, well-behaved heroine and her love interest. She also explained apparently supernatural phenomena in her novels, thus achieving respectability for the genre. As flat as her characters are (and they are flat), she is still credited with portraying females who are able to triumph over her wicked villains.

An illustration from the 1805 edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho

Although Radcliffe mixed in some distinguished circles, she was apparently too shy to make much of an impression on the people within. She married an Oxford graduate, William Radcliffe, a journalist and editor, and theirs was apparently a happy marriage. Her novels became the most popular of the late 18th century, but she stopped publishing them well before she died. Her obituary stated that she never mingled in society but kept apart.

Radcliffe’s novels are not geographically or historically correct, but she got some of her inspiration from painted landscapes, which she described effectively in her novels. Hence, the picturesque descriptions, many of places she had never been.

Of course, Jane Austen parodied one of her most well-known books, The Mysteries of Udolpho, in Northanger Abbey, but she was an inspiration to other authors, including Walter Scott, Edgar Allen Poe, and even Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Dates: 1764-1863

Most popular works: The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian

Other works: A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany, Gaston de Blondeville



11 thoughts on “Classic Author Focus: Ann Radcliffe

  1. I have Udolpho and Northanger Abbey on my classics challenge and now will read them with much more insight, thank you! It’s a good point about reading a chapter a day, I’ll keep that in mind.

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  2. I’m reading The Mysteries of Udolpho now and, while I’m only on chapter 4, I’m really enjoying it. Lighthearted and a little silly but it can be a perfect read depending on your mood. I’m looking forward to laughing at the overdramatic.

    Thanks for the information on Radcliffe. I love learning more about authors of the books I’m reading!

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  3. I love that she described her stories by looking at paintings!! What an interesting detail. Thank you for sharing. ❤

    I've also read The Mysteries of Udolpho. I didn’t mind the length and would definitely read another by her. I actually loved the descriptions the most!

    I read it during a 24-hour readathon and don’t mind admitting that it had me scared by 3am. I read it because I was also reading Northanger Abbey for the first time. I wanted to know what was under the thing. You know what I mean!

    It’s interesting you say she was happily married. Virginia Woolf makes the argument in A Room of One’s Own that married women in history didn’t write. I have wondered why she didn’t address the careers of Kate Chopin and Elizabeth Gaskell in her essay. Now Radcliffe!

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    1. Yes, but ooph, those descriptions were long! I never got scared by it because it moved so slowly. I wanted to find out what was happening but eventually ran out of patience with it. Good point about the marriage!

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  4. Interesting background, thank you. I have only read ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’. Although far too long, I did enjoy the beautiful descriptions of the scenery. It was like looking at a painting. If her other books are not that long, I might venture into her world again!


      1. I read it over a long time. Sometimes it picks up the story and you are into it. Then again, there are these long descriptions of nature and all. Maybe “a chapter a day”. I always use this when I find the book uninteresting, but still want to read it. Just finished this schedule with Mansfield Park (love Jane Austen, but this was a dull story, although had other qualities. I will write a review of it), and am now on it with Shirley. Although I love Charlotte Brontë’s writing I have difficulties coming into the story.
        On the other hand…we can’t read all of them!

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