One of the most challenging and rewarding courses I’ve taken is on Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823). Regarded as the principal creator of the female Gothic genre, Radcliffe is credited as establishing a standard and new formula for Gothic fiction which earned it great respect and a larger readership. Patriarchal authority and institutions were challenged and examined in the Female Gothic. Unlike male writers such as Matthew Lewis who wove scenes of sexual assault into their work, Radcliffe’s terrors come from implied or possible physical assaults, and the “explained supernatural”. Her essay, “On the Supernatural in Poetry”, examines how she distinguishes between “terror” and “horror”.
We read four of her six novels in class: A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797). The Mysteries of Udolpho, which most recently inspired Guillermo del Toro and his movie Crimson Peak, is 672 pages long and is considered Radcliffe’s masterpiece.
Radcliffe is a great storyteller with an incredible sense of adventure. I found myself captivated by her exotic settings and intriguing characters. Although few modern readers have heard of her, Radcliffe has influenced several writers including Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), Jane Austen (1775-1817), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), and more recently, Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) and Anne Rice (1941).
For more on Radcliffe:
Davison, Carol M. History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009.
Ellis, Markman. The History of Gothic Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburg University Press, 2000.
Heiland, Donna. Gothic & Gender: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
Mulvey-Roberts, Marie. The Handbook of the Gothic. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
Wright, Angela. Gothic Fiction: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007.