Ann Radcliffe (July 9, 1764 - February 7, 1823) was an English author of the early Romantic period whose fiction pioneered the genre of the gothic novel. Although Radcliffe is often considered one of the founders of horror fiction, her works are unusual. Although her characters often encounter menacing and mysterious phenomena in the depths of dungeons at midnight, there is never any actual presence of the supernatural to be found in her work. Radcliffe's works exhibit a sort of realism, a psychological rather than fantastical horror that have made them one of the enduring classics of the early Romantic era, both for lovers of horror fiction and for general readers alike. As a genre writer, Radcliffe's reputation has never been as strong as some of her contemporaries, such as The Bronte sisters or Jane Austen. Austen herself wrote a novel-length parody of Radcliffe, and she has often been relegated to the sidelines of interest by critics studying the early Romantic period. Nonetheless, in recent years a resurgence in interest in Radcliffe's works as literary artifacts has begun to develop. In her time, Radcliffe was admired by some of the brightest minds of her generation for her ability to tap into the powerfully sensational themes of Romanticism through her scenes of horror, including Coleridge and Byron. Today, Radcliffe is beginning to be recognized as an important influence on Walter Scott and a number of other major fiction writers of her period, and her contribution to the evolution of nineteenth-century fiction is well-recognized.
Ann Radcliffe was born Ann Ward in London. She married William Radcliffe, an editor for the English Chronicle, at Bath in 1788. The couple were childless. To amuse herself, she began to write fiction, which her husband encouraged.
She published The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne in 1789. It set the tone for the majority of her work, which tended to involve innocent, but heroic young women who find themselves in gloomy, mysterious castles ruled by even more mysterious barons with dark pasts. Although most of her novels were set in continental Europe amid majestic landscapes, Radcliffe ironically never traveled to the continent until after she had already written most of her novels.
Her works were extremely popular among the upper class and the growing middle class, especially among young women. Their ability to infuse sensations of fear and terror with a quiet, conscientious rationalism appealed tremendously to the literary tastes of her times. Her works included The Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1796).
The success of The Romance of the Forest established Radcliffe as the leading exponent of the historical Gothic romance. Her later novels met with even greater attention, and produced many imitators, and famously, Jane Austen's burlesque of The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey, as well as influencing the works of Sir Walter Scott and Mary Wollstonecraft.
She died on February 7, 1823 from respiratory problems probably caused by pneumonia.
The Mysteries of Udolpho, is widely considered to be Radcliffe's most influential work. It was published in the summer of 1794 by G. G. and J. Robinson of London in four volumes. Her fourth and most popular novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho follows the fortunes of Emily St. Aubert who suffers, among other misadventures, the death of her father, supernatural terrors in a gloomy castle, and the machinations of an Italian brigand. Often cited as the archetypal Gothic novel, in which an impressionable young woman is left to fend for herself against the wiles of a sinister and possibly supernatural men.
The Mysteries of Udolpho is the quintessential work of Gothic fiction, replete with incidents of physical and psychological terror; remote, crumbling castles; seemingly supernatural events; a brooding, scheming villain; and a persecuted heroine. To this mix Radcliffe adds extensive descriptions of exotic landscapes in the Pyrenees and Apennines. Set in 1584 in southern France and northern Italy, the novel focuses on the plight of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman who is orphaned after the death of her father. Emily suffers imprisonment in the castle Udolpho at the hands of Signor Montoni, an Italian brigand who has married her aunt and guardian, Madame Cheron. Emily's romance with Valancourt, the younger brother of Count Duvarney, is frustrated by Montoni and others. Emily also endeavors to discover an explanation for the mysterious relationship between her father and the Marchioness de Villeroi, a mystery which appears to have connections to the castle Udolpho.
The novel opens with a character sketch of Emily St. Aubert, who is the only child of a landed rural family whose fortunes are now in decline. Emily and her father share an especially close bond, due to their shared appreciation for nature. After her mother's death from a serious illness, Emily and her father grow even closer. She accompanies him on a trip to Switzerland, where they encounter Valancourt, a handsome man who also feels an almost mystical kinship with the natural world. Emily and Valancourt quickly fall in love.
Emily's father succumbs to a long illness. Emily, now orphaned, is sent to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron (later known as Madame Montoni), who shares none of her interests and shows her little affection. Madame Cheron marries Montoni, the villain of the story. Montoni brings Madame Montoni and Emily to Udolpho (therefore separating Emily from her suitor Valancourt), in which Montoni threatens Madame with violence in order to force her to sign over her properties in Toulouse, which upon her death, will go to Emily. A lot of frightening, seemingly supernatural but ultimately ordinary events happen within the castle, and in the end, Emily discovers the seret of Montoni's power and triumphs over him, taking control of her property and reuniting herself with Valancourt.
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