Monday, July 9, 2012

Ann Radcliffe perfected Gothic novels

Ann Radcliffe
It is the birthday of English writer Ann Radcliffe (1764), who is credited with perfecting the Gothic novel with vivid descriptions of settings, supernatural elements and a well reasoned explanation at the end of all the strange events in the story.

Radcliffe is said to have been a beautiful woman but very private. Little is known of the details of her life. Scholars say her husband was the editor and co-owner of a newspaper. It is said that he often worked late and that she occupied herself with her writing, which she read to him when he came home.

She wrote only six novels:

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789). A novel of intrigue among Scottish nobility set in ruined medieval castles along the rugged Scottish coastline. The castles themselves are key elements in the story.

A Sicilian Romance (1790). A monk relates the story of a doomed aristocratic Italian family and its shameful secrets. But all ends happily.

The Romance of the Forest (1791). A Frenchman and his wife and two servants flee his creditors in Paris and end up in a ruined abbey with a beautiful young woman and, later, the couple's son. Terrifying events occur, a great secret is revealed and all is right in the end. This was Radcliffe's first popular novel, and established her reputation. She and her husband traveled extensively on the earnings from her writing.

The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Set in the mountains of southern France and northern italy, this is the story of a young French woman whose father dies, her trials at the hands of an Italian bandit, her romance with a dashing young hero, and the revelation of secrets about her father. A character in Jane Austin's novel Northanger Abbey reads this book and begins to see her friends as characters in a Gothic novel in a send-up of Radcliffe's work. (Radcliffe appears as a friend encouraging Jane Austin to write in the movie Becoming Jane, though scholars say there is no evidence such a meeting took place.)

The Italian (1797). Set during the French Revolution, this is a novel of romance and intrigue and persecution.  The was the last book published in Radcliffe's lifetime.

Gaston De Blondeville (1826). This is a story of murder and intrigue set in the 13th century in the court of King Henry III. Radcliffe's husband published it after her death.

In addition to Austin, Radcliffe's work also influenced Sir Walter Scott, Marquis de Sade and Edgar Allan Poe.

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