Radcliffe, Ann (1764 - 1823)

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(1764 - 1823)

(Born Ann Ward) English novelist, poet, and journal writer.

Considered one of the most important writers of the English Gothic tradition, Radcliffe transformed the Gothic novel from a mere vehicle for the depiction of terror into an instrument for exploring the psychology of fear and suspense. Her emphasis on emotion, perception, and the relationship between atmosphere and sensibility helped pave the way for the Romantic movement in England. Radcliffe's best-known novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), ranks as one of the chief exemplars of the Gothic genre.


Radcliffe was born in London. A shy child afflicted with asthma, she read widely. Though she was given private instruction in the classics, literature, painting, and drawing, Radcliffe received little encouragement from her parents to continue her studies. As a young woman, Radcliffe associated with the "bluestockings" Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Hester Lynch Piozzi, who, biographers believe, provided her with inspiration and intellectual stimulation. In 1787 she married William Radcliffe, later the editor of the English Chronicle, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to begin writing novels.

Although Radcliffe was the most popular English novelist of her generation, she managed to avoid publicity almost entirely. In fact, when Christina Rossetti attempted to write a biography of Radcliffe in 1883, she was forced to abandon the project because of the lack of available information. For unknown reasons Radcliffe withdrew entirely from public life in 1817 at the peak of her fame. Her absence triggered a series of rumors, the most widespread being that she had suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the terrors described in her own works. Sir Walter Scott speculated that she stopped writing because she abhorred the manner in which her imitators had cheapened and sentimentalized the Gothic novel. Obituaries appeared in newspapers on the supposition that Radcliffe had died. Also in circulation were legends that Radcliffe had died in an insane asylum and that her ghost returned to haunt her imitators.


Radcliffe's first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story (1789), made a negligible impression upon readers and reviewers alike. A historical romance set in Scotland, the novel abounds in the picturesque description and dark atmosphere that was to become Radcliffe's trademark. Yet it was criticized for its abundance of anachronisms, especially imposing upon feudal heroines a distinctively nineteenth-century sensibility. A Sicilian Romance (1790), Radcliffe's next work, established her reputation as the preeminent Gothic novelist. Here the distinctive features of Radcliffe's style emerge more fully: the use of landscape to create a mood of terror, mystery, and suspense, intricacy of plot, a lyrical prose style, and a focus on individual psychology. The Romance of the Forest (1791), and The Mysteries of Udolpho, her first signed work, strengthened her popularity and made her a best-selling author in England, the United States, and Europe. The Mysteries of Udolpho contains all of the classic Gothic elements, including a haunted castle, a troubled heroine, a mysterious and menacing male figure, and hidden secrets of the past. The most prominent theme in Udolpho is the triumph of virtue over villainy: a characteristic of all the novels by Radcliffe, who was a devout Christian. Montoni, who squanders his fortunes and turns to illegal and deadly means to win them back, is eventually imprisoned, while Emily, though she endures many trying adventures, maintains her moral principles and eventually finds happiness. Related to this theme is the importance of balance and moderation, which Emily's father teaches her. It is when Emily allows herself to go to emotional extremes, becoming imbalanced, that she suffers most. Also present in the story is Emily's search for truth and need to uncover the secrets at Udolpho and the Villeroi chateau. Another theme is the inescapable past. Many of the characters are haunted by their past, as Emily is; although the mysteries of Udolpho are eventually resolved, there is still a sense of an inescapable haunting that follows the characters. A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (1795) details Radcliffe's first trip outside of England. The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797), a Gothic mystery which is considered by some to be Radcliffe's best novel, traces the machinations of the monk Schedoni, who became a prototypical Gothic hero—brooding, mysterious, and fascinating.


Critics have speculated on the various influences upon Radcliffe's style, noting the similarities between her landscapes and the paintings of the Neapolitan painter and poet Salvator Rosa and the French landscape painter Claude Lorrain. Critics also note that her linking of terror and beauty corresponds with Edmund Burke's philosophy of the sublime and that her poetry resembles that of William Collins, James Thomson, Thomas Gray, and James Macpherson. In addition, Radcliffe's motif of the heroine in distress indicates a knowledge of sentimental novelists such as Charlotte Smith, although her works most often appear to be modeled upon the works of Horace Walpole. The primary distinguishing feature of Radcliffe's style is her explained endings. After elaborately setting up a mystery, planting the seeds of supernatural agency, and piquing the reader's curiosity, Radcliffe invariably resolves her plots in a rational and orderly way, providing reasoned explanations for seemingly supernatural events. Whether they praise or criticize her for this practice, critics cite this as Radcliffe's distinctive contribution to the development of the English novel.

The Mysteries of Udolpho was both an extremely popular and critically acclaimed novel when it was first published and for many years after. Readers enjoyed Radcliffe's gift for description and her deftness at building dramatic tension throughout the story. She was acknowledged by critics of her time as the queen of the Gothic novel, and she was also considered a pioneer of the Romantic movement. With her popularity, however, also came a wide array of imitators who shamelessly—and often poorly—copied her style, plots, and characters. It was because of these lesser writers that Radcliffe's works often suffered by association. Her work was sometimes satirized, too, most famously in Jane Austen's 1818 novel, Northanger Abbey.

Overall, early critical response to Radcliffe's works was mixed: while Samuel Taylor Coleridge attacked her explained endings for their inadequacy in satisfying the expectations of the reader, Sir Walter Scott called her "the first poetess of romantic fiction" for her natural descriptions. Other contemporary critics assessed her explanations as tedious, her dialogue as wooden, and her characters as flat, while some praised her brilliant rhetorical style, her examination of fear, and her affirmation of moral order at the conclusion of each novel. Thomas Noon Talfourd (see Further Reading) attributed Radcliffe's anticlimactic endings to her obedience to the conventions of the Gothic novel. He proposed that Radcliffe determined that the conventions of romance did not allow for supernatural agency, and that she therefore felt bound to explain it away. Virginia Woolf (see Further Reading) disputed Talfourd by assert-ing that Radcliffe's novels were remarkably free from convention. At the turn of the century, Walter Raleigh (see Further Reading) enlarged the popular understanding of Radcliffe by noting her role as a predecessor of the Romantic movement in England. Wylie Sypher's Marxist analysis (see Further Reading) delineated the novels' simultaneously bourgeois and anti-bourgeois tendencies, which he considered hypocritical. On the whole, Radcliffe's works received very little critical attention until the late 1950s, when Devendra P. Varma's overview of her novels again spurred curiosity about her work. The 1960s and 1970s reflected this surge of renewed interest. Critics have pursued new approaches to defining the role of description in Radcliffe's works; the extent and intent of her preoccupation with the realm of irrational behavior have been debated extensively, and recent critics have analyzed Udolpho from feminist and psychological standpoints and offer scholarly considerations of Emily's character. Udolpho has also been considered in terms of its sensual subtext and Emily's growing sense of her sexuality. In this new light, the novel has gained greater appreciation among modern literary commentators. Such writers as William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Anne and Emily Brontë, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lord Byron (who used Schedoni as the model for the Byronic hero), admired Radcliffe's exploration of extreme emotional states and adapted her techniques in their own works. Most critics now view Radcliffe as a key figure in the Gothic tradition who freed the collective English literary imagination from conventional and rational constraints and ushered in English Romanticism.


The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story [published anonymously] (novel) 1789
A Sicilian Romance. 2 vols. [published anonymously] (novel) 1790
The Romance of the Forest: Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry. 3 vols. [published anonymously] (novel) 1791
The Mysteries of Udolpho, A Romance; Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry. 4 vols. (novel) 1794
A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany, with a Return Down the Rhine; To Which Are Added Observations during a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland (travel essays) 1795
The Italian; or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents. A Romance. 3 vols. (novel) 1797
Gaston de Blondeville; or, The Court of Henry III. Keeping Festival in Ardenne, A Romance. St. Alban's Abbey, A Metrical Tale; With Some Poetical Pieces. To Which Is Prefixed a Memoir of the Author (novel and poetry) 1826



SOURCE: Radcliffe, Ann. "The Haunted Chamber." In Gothic Tales of Terror, Volume One: Classic Horror Stories from Great Britain, edited by Peter Haining. 1972. Reprint edition, pp. 49-67. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books Inc., 1973.

The following excerpt is from an episode of Radcliffe's novel The Mysteries of Udolpho, first published in 1794.

The Provençal Tale

There lived, in the province of Bretagne, a noble baron, famous for his magnificence and courtly hospitalities. His castle was graced with ladies of exquisite beauty, and thronged with illustrious knights; for the honour he paid to feats of chivalry invited the brave of distant countries to enter his lists, and his court was more splendid than those of many princes. Eight minstrels were retained in his service, who used to sing to their harps romantic fictions taken from the Arabians, or adventures of chivalry that befell knights during the crusades, or the martial deeds of the baron, their lord; while he, surrounded by his knights and ladies, banqueted in the great hall of the castle, where the costly tapestry that adorned the walls with pictured exploits of his ancestors, the casements of painted glass enriched with armorial bearings, the gorgeous banners that waved along the roof, the sumptuous canopies, the profusion of gold and silver that glittered on the sideboards, the numerous dishes that covered the tables, the number and gay liveries of the attendants, with the chivalric and splendid attire of the guests, united to form a scene of magnificence such as we may not hope to see in these degenerate days.

Of the baron the following adventure is related:—One night, having retired late from the banquet to his chamber, and dismissed his at-tendants, he was surprised by the appearance of a stranger of a noble air, but of a sorrowful and dejected countenance. Believing that this person had been secreted in the apartment, since it appeared impossible he could have lately passed the ante-room unobserved by the pages in waiting, who would have prevented this intrusion on their lord, the baron, calling loudly for his people, drew his sword, which he had not yet taken from his side, and stood upon his defence. The stranger, slowly advancing, told him that there was nothing to fear; that he came with no hostile intent, but to communicate to him a terrible secret, which it was necessary for him to know.

The baron, appeased by the courteous manner of the stranger, after surveying him for some time in silence, returned his sword into the scabbard, and desired him to explain the means by which he had obtained access to the chamber, and the purpose of this extraordinary visit.

Without answering either of these inquiries, the stranger said that he could not then explain himself, but that, if the baron would follow him to the edge of the forest, at a short distance from the castle walls, he would there convince him that he had something of importance to disclose.

This proposal again alarmed the baron, who would scarcely believe that the stranger meant to draw him to so solitary a spot at this hour of the night without harbouring a design against his life, and he refused to go; observing at the same time, that if the stranger's purpose was an honourable one, he would not persist in refusing to reveal the occasion of his visit in the apartment where they stood.

While he spoke this, he viewed the stranger still more attentively than before, but observed no change in his countenance, nor any symptom that might intimate a consciousness of evil design. He was habited like a knight, was of a tall and majestic stature, and of dignified and courteous manners. Still, however, he refused to communicate the substance of his errand in any place but that he had mentioned; and at the same time gave hints concerning the secret he would disclose, that awakened a degree of solemn curiosity in the baron, which at length induced him to consent to the stranger on certain conditions.

'Sir knight,' said he, 'I will attend you to the forest, and will take with me only four of my people, who shall witness our conference.'

To this, however, the knight objected.

'What I would disclose,' said he with solemnity, 'is to you alone. There are only three living persons to whom the circumstance is known: it is of more consequence to you and your house than I shall now explain. In future years you will look back to this night with satisfaction or repentance, accordingly as you now determine. As you would hereafter prosper, follow me; I pledge you the honour of a knight that no evil shall befall you. If you are contented to dare futurity, remain in your chamber, and I will depart as I came.'

'Sir knight,' replied the baron; 'how is it possible that my future peace can depend upon my present determination?'

'That is not now to be told,' said the stranger; 'I have explained myself to the utmost. It is late: if you follow me it must be quickly; you will do well to consider the alternative.'

The baron mused, and, as he looked upon the knight, he perceived his countenance assume a singular solemnity.

(Here Ludovico thought he heard a noise, and he threw a glance round the chamber, and then held up the lamp to assist his observation; but not perceiving anything to confirm his alarm, he took up the book again, and pursued the story.)

The baron paced his apartment for some time in silence, impressed by the words of the stranger, whose extraordinary request he feared to grant, and feared also to refuse. At length he said, 'Sir knight, you are utterly unknown to me; tell me, yourself, is it reasonable that I should trust myself alone with a stranger, at this hour, in the solitary forest? Tell me, at least, who you are, and who assisted to secrete you in this chamber.'

The knight frowned at these words, and was a moment silent; then, with a countenance somewhat stern, he said, 'I am an English knight; I am called Sir Bevys of Lancaster, and my deeds are not unknown at the holy city, whence I was returning to my native land, when I was benighted in the forest.'

'You name is not unknown to fame,' said the baron; 'I have heard of it.' (The knight looked haughtily.) 'But why, since my castle is known to entertain all true knights, did not your herald announce you? Why did you not appear at the banquet, where your presence would have been welcomed, instead of hiding yourself in my castle, and stealing to my chamber at mid-night?'

The stranger frowned, and turned away in silence; but the baron repeated the questions.

'I come not,' said the knight, 'to answer inquiries, but to reveal facts. If you would know more, follow me; and again I pledge the honour of a knight that you shall return in safety. Be quick in your determination—I must be gone.'

After some farther hesitation, the baron determined to follow the stranger, and to see the result of his extraordinary request; he therefore again drew forth his sword, and, taking up a lamp, bade the knight lead on. The latter obeyed; and opening the door of the chamber, they passed into the ante-room, where the baron, surprised to find all his pages asleep, stopped, and with hasty violence was going to reprimand them for their carelessness, when the knight waved his hand, and looked so expressively at the baron, that the latter restrained his resentment, and passed on.

The knight, having descended a staircase, opened a secret door, which the baron had believed was only known to himself; and proceeding through several narrow and winding passages, came at length to a small gate that opened beyond the walls of the castle. Perceiving that these secret passages were so well known to a stranger, the baron felt inclined to turn back from an adventure that appeared to partake of treachery as well as danger. Then, considering that he was armed, and observing the courteous and noble air of his conductor, his courage returned, he blushed that it had failed him for a moment, and he resolved to trace the mystery to its source.

He now found himself on the healthy platform, before the great gates of his castle, where, on looking up, he perceived lights glimmering in the different casements of the guests, who were retiring to sleep; and while he shivered in the blast, and looked on the dark and desolate scene around him, he thought of the comforts of his warm chamber, rendered cheerful by the blaze of wood, and felt, for a moment, the full contrast of his present situation.

(Here Ludovico paused a moment, and, looking at his own fire, gave it a brightening stir.)

The wind was strong, and the baron watched his lamp with anxiety, expecting every moment, to see it extinguished; but though the flame wavered, it did not expire, and he still followed the stranger, who often sighed as he went, but did not speak.

When they reached the borders of the forest, the knight turned and raised his head, as if he meant to address the baron, but then closing his lips, in silence he walked on.

As they entered beneath the dark and spreading boughs, the baron, affected by the solemnity of the scene, hesitated whether to proceed, and demanded how much farther they were to go. The knight replied only by a gesture, and the baron, with hesitating steps and a suspicious eye, followed through an obscure and intricate path, till, having proceeded a considerable way, he again demanded whither they were going, and refused to proceed unless he was informed.

As he said this, he looked at his own sword and at the knight alternately, who shook his head, and whose dejected countenance disarmed the baron, for a moment, of suspicion.

'A little farther is the place whither I would lead you,' said the stranger; 'no evil shall befall you—I have sworn it on the honour of a knight.'

The baron, reassured, again followed in silence, and they soon arrived at a deep recess of the forest, where the dark and lofty chestnuts entirely excluded the sky, and which was so overgrown with underwood that they proceeded with difficulty. The knight sighed deeply as he passed, and sometimes paused; and having at length reached a spot where the trees crowded into a knot, he turned, and with a terrific look, pointing to the ground, the baron saw there the body of a man, stretched at its length, and weltering in blood; a ghastly wound was on the forehead, and death appeared already to have contracted the features.

The baron, on perceiving the spectacle, started in horror, looked at the knight for explanation, and was then going to raise the body, and examine if there were any remains of life; but the stranger, waving his hand, fixed upon him a look so earnest and mournful, as not only much surprised him, but made him desist.

But what were the baron's emotions when, on holding the lamp near the features of the corpse, he discovered the exact resemblance of the stranger his conductor, to whom he now looked up in astonishment and inquiry! As he gazed he perceived the countenance of the knight change and begin to fade, till his whole form gradually vanished from his astonished sense! While the baron stood, fixed to the spot, a voice was heard to utter these words:

(Ludovico started, and laid down the book for he thought he heard a voice in the chamber, and he looked towards the bed, where, however, he saw only the dark curtain and the pall. He listened, scarcely daring to draw his breath, but heard only the distant roaring of the sea in the storm, and the blast that rushed by the casements; when, concluding that he had been deceived by its sighings, he took up his book to finish his story.)

While the baron stood, fixed to the spot, a voice was heard to utter these words:

'The body of Sir Bevys of Lancaster, a noble knight of England, lies before you. He was this night waylaid and murdered, as he journeyed from the holy city towards his native land. Respect the honour of knighthood, and the law of humanity; inter the body in christian ground, and cause his murderers to be punished. As ye observe or neglect this, shall peace and happiness, or war and misery, light upon you and your house for ever!'

The baron, when he recovered from the awe and astonishment into which this adventure had thrown him, returned to his castle, whither he caused the body of Sir Bevys to be removed; and on the following day it was interred, with the honours of knighthood, in the chapel of the castle, attended by all the noble knights and ladies who graced the court of Baron de Brunne.

Ludovico, having finished this story, laid aside the book, for he felt drowsy; and after putting more wood on the fire, and taking another glass of wine, he reposed himself in the armchair on the hearth. In his dream he still beheld the chamber where the rally was, and once or twice started from imperfect slumbers, imagining he saw a man's face looking over the high back of his armchair. This idea had so strongly impressed him, that, when he raised his eyes, he almost expected to meet other eyes fixed upon his own; and he quitted his seat, and looked behind the chair before he felt perfectly convinced that no person was there.

Thus closed the hour.

The count, who had slept little during the night, rose early, and, anxious to speak with Ludovico, went to the north apartment; but the outer door having been fastened on the preceding night, he was obliged to knock loudly for admittance. Neither the knocking nor his voice was heard: he renewed his calls more loudly than before; after which a total silence ensued; and the count, finding all his efforts to be heard ineffectual, at length began to fear that some accident had befallen Ludovico, whom terror of an imaginary being might have deprived of his senses. He therefore left the door with an intention of summoning his servants to force it open, some of whom he now heard moving in the lower part of the château.

To the count's inquiries whether they had seen or heard anything of Ludovico, they replied, in affright, that not one of them had ventured on the north side of the château since the preceding night.

'He sleeps soundly, then,' said the count, 'and is at such a distance from the outer door, which is fastened, that to gain admittance to the chambers it will be necessary to force it. Bring an instrument, and follow me.'

The servants stood mute and dejected, and it was not till nearly all the household were assembled, that the count's orders were obeyed. In the meantime, Dorothee was telling of a door that opened from a gallery leading from the great staircase into the last ante-room of the saloon, and this being much nearer to the bedchamber, it appeared probable that Ludovico might be easily awakened by an attempt to open it. Thither, therefore, the count went; but his voice was as ineffectual at this door as it had proved at the remoter one; and now, seriously interested for Ludovico, he was himself going to strike upon the door with the instrument, when he observed its singular beauty, and withheld the blow. It appeared on the first glance to be of ebony, so dark and close was its grain, and so high its polish; but it proved to be only of larch wood, of the growth of Provence, then famous for its forests of larch. The beauty of its polished hue, and of its delicate carvings, determined the count to spare this door, and he returned to that leading from the back staircase, which being at length forced, he entered the first ante-room, followed by Henri and a few of the most courageous of his servants, the rest waiting the event of the inquiry on the stairs and landing-place.

All was silence in the chambers through which the count passed, and, having reached the saloon, he called loudly upon Ludovico; after which, still receiving no answer, he threw open the door of the bedroom, and entered.

The profound stillness within confirmed his apprehensions for Ludovico, for not even the breathings of a person in sleep were heard; and his uncertainty was not soon terminated, since the shutters being all closed, the chamber was too dark for any object to be distinguished in it.

The count bade a servant open them, who, as he crossed the room to do so, stumbled over something, and fell to the floor, when his cry occasioned such a panic among the few of his fel-lows who had ventured thus far, that they instantly fled, and the count and Henri were left to finish the adventure.

Henri then sprang across the room, and, opening a window-shutter, they perceived that the man had fallen over a chair near the hearth, in which Ludovico had been sitting;—for he sat there no longer, nor could anywhere be seen by the imperfect light that was admitted into the apartment. The count, seriously alarmed, now opened other shutters, that he might be enabled to examine farther; and Ludovico not yet appearing, he stood for a moment suspended in astonishment, and scarcely trusting his senses, till his eyes glancing on the bed, he advanced to examine whether he was there asleep. No person, however, was in it; and he proceeded to the Oriel, where everything remained as on the preceding night; but Ludovico was nowhere to be found.

The count now checked his amazement, considering that Ludovico might have left the chambers during the night, overcome by the terrors which their lonely desolation and the recollected reports concerning them had inspired. Yet, if this had been the fact, the man would naturally have sought society, and his fellow-servants had all declared they had not seen him; the door of the outer room also had been found fastened, with the key on the inside; it was impossible, therefore, for him to have passed through that; and all the outer doors of this suite were found, on examination, to be bolted and locked, with the keys also within them. The count, being then compelled to believe that the lad had escaped through the casements, next examined them; but such as opened wide enough to admit the body of a man were found to be carefully secured either by iron bars or by shutters, and no vestige appeared of any person having attempted to pass them; neither was it probable that Ludovico would have incurred the risk of breaking his neck by leaping from a window, when he might have walked safely through a door.

The count's amazement did not admit of words; but he returned once more to examine the bedroom, where was no appearance of disorder, except that occasioned by the late overthrow of the chair, near which had stood a small table; and on this Ludovico's sword, his lamp, the book he had been reading, and the remains of his flask of wine, still remained. At the foot of the table, too, was the basket, with some fragments of provision and wood.

Henri and the servant now uttered their astonishment without reserve, and though the count said little, there was a seriousness in his manner that expressed much. It appeared that Ludovico must have quitted these rooms by some concealed passage, for the count could not believe that any supernatural means had occasioned this event; yet, if there was any such passage, it seemed inexplicable why he should retreat through it; and it was equally surprising, that not even the smallest vestige should appear by which his progress could be traced. In the rooms, everything remained as much in order as if he had just walked out by the common way.

The count himself assisted in lifting the arras with which the bedchamber, saloon, and one of the ante-rooms were hung, that he might discover if any door had been concealed behind it; but after a laborious search, none was found; and he at length quitted the apartments, having secured the door of the last antechamber the key of which he took his own possession. He then gave orders that strict search should be made for Ludovico, not only in the château, but in the neighbourhood, and retiring with Henri to his closet, they remained there in conversation for a considerable time; and whatever was the subject of it, Henri from this hour lost much of his vivacity; and his manners were particularly grave and reserved, whenever the topic, which now agitated the count's family with wonder and alarm, was introduced.1


1. The château had been inhabited before the count came into its possession. He was not aware that the apparently outward walls contained a series of passages and staircases, which led to unknown vaults underground, and, therefore, he never thought of looking for a door in those parts of the chamber which he supposed to be next to the air. In these was a communication with the room. The château (for we are not here in Udolpho) was on the sea-shore in Languedoc; its vaults had become the store-house of pirates, who did their best to keep up the supernatural delusions that hindered people from searching the premises; and these pirates had carried Ludovico away.


SOURCE: Radcliffe, Ann. "On the Supernatural in Poetry." New Monthly Magazine 16 (1826): 145-52.

In the following excerpt from a fictional conversation between two travelers, Radcliffe presents a distinction between horror and terror.

[Said W―:] "Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them. I apprehend, that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in the uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the [latter] …, respecting the dreaded evil?"…

"How can any thing be indistinct and not confused?" said Mr. S―….

[Replied W―: "Obscurity,] or indistinctness, is only a negative, which leaves the imagination to act upon the few hints that truth reveals to it; confusion is a thing as positive as distinctness, though not necessarily so palpable; and it may, by mingling and confounding one image with another, absolutely counteract the imagination, instead of exciting it. Obscurity leaves something for the imagination to exaggerate; confusion, by blurring one image into another, leaves only a chaos in which the mind can find nothing to be magnificent, nothing to nourish its fears or doubts, or to act upon in any way; yet confusion and obscurity are terms used indiscriminately by those, who would prove, that Shakspeare and Milton were wrong when they employed obscurity as a cause of the sublime, that Mr. Burke was equally mistaken in his reasoning upon the subject, and that mankind have been equally in error, as to the nature of their own feelings, when they were acted upon by the illusions of those great masters of the imagination, at whose so potent bidding, the passions have been awakened from their sleep, and by whose magic a crowded Theatre has been changed to a lonely shore, to a witch's cave, to an enchanted island, to a murderer's castle, to the ramparts of an usurper, to the battle, to the midnight carousal of the camp or the tavern, to every various scene of the living world."


Mrs. Radcliffe's powers, both of language and description, have been justly estimated very highly. They bear, at the same time, considerable marks of that warm, and somewhat exuberant imagination, which dictated her works. Some artists are distinguished by precision and correctness of outline, others by the force and vividness of their colouring; and it is to the latter class that this author belongs. The landscapes of Mrs. Radcliffe are far from equal in accuracy and truth to those of her contemporary, Mrs. Charlotte Smith, whose sketches are so very graphical, that an artist would find little difficulty in actually painting from them. Those of Mrs. Radcliffe, on the contrary, while they would supply the most noble and vigorous ideas, for producing a general effect, would leave the task of tracing a distinct and accurate outline to the imagination of the painter. As her story is usually enveloped in mystery, so there is, as it were, a haze over her landscapes, softening indeed the whole, and adding interest and dignity to particular parts, and thereby producing every effect which the author desired, but without communicating any absolutely precise or individual image to the reader….

It may be true, that Mrs. Radcliffe rather walks in fairy-land than in the region of realities, and that she has neither displayed the command of the human passions, nor the insight into the human heart, nor the observation of life and manners, which recommend other authors in the same line. But she has taken the lead in a line of composition, appealing to those powerful and general sources of interest, a latent sense of supernatural awe, and curiosity concerning whatever is hidden and mysterious; and if she has been ever nearly approached in this walk, which we should hesitate to affirm, it is at least certain, that she has never been excelled or even equalled.

SOURCE: Scott, Sir Walter. "Ann Radcliffe." In Sir Walter Scott on Novelists and Novels. 1824. Reprint edition, edited by Ioan Williams, pp. 102-19. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.



SOURCE: Miall, David S. "The Preceptor as Fiend: Radcliffe's Psychology of the Gothic." In Jane Austen and Mary Shelley and Their Sisters, edited by Laura Dabundo, pp. 31-43. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 2000.

In the following essay, Miall considers Radcliffe's treatment of women's education in her works.

From the perspective of the 1990s, we might regard the Britain of the 1790s as marked by a pervasive neurosis of the social order. Nowhere is this more evident than in the position assigned to women, who were subjected to a range of legal and social disabilities. Although these disabilities were not new to the 1790s, they acquired a special intensity in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the reaction against all things Jacobin. One notable turning point was the eruption of hysteria following the publication of the first edition of William Godwin's Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, which helped ensure that Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) would quickly lose the regard it had initially enjoyed and would soon fall into obscurity. Another instance is the publication of the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, from The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789) to The Italian (1797). The extraordinary popular success that the novels enjoyed, together with the rash of third-rate imitations that immediately ensued, suggests that the novels fulfilled an urgent social need.

Despite different aims, the writings of both Wollstonecraft and Radcliffe share one obvious preoccupation, concern with the education of women. Both react, although differently, to the contemporary emphasis in fashionable education on feminine accomplishments and the cult of sensibility. The teacher's role in Radcliffe's novels, however, surpasses that of parent or tutor. Suspense or terror, supernatural intimations, the use of the sublime, and the persecution by powerful men also support pedagogical issues; in this respect the novels point to another principle underlying the neurosis of the 1790s. There was enforced upon most women by the prevailing culture—that "perpetual babyism" of which Mary Hays complained (97). To be more precise, the Radcliffean Gothic is constructed from a psychological machinery that enacts the predicament of the abandoned child, for whom the only resolution available is the temporary one of wish fulfillment. The novels' significance, and their attraction for their first readers, perhaps lies in that they capture the borderline status of women, neither child nor adult, and portray, albeit in disguised and symbolic form, the attendant disabilities to which their middle-class female readers were themselves victim.

Radcliffe probably did not consciously design her novels to explore such issues; on the contrary, their paradoxes of plot and character suggest conflicted, unconscious materials. No record indicates that Radcliffe received any formal education, although her novels show familiarity with English literature of the eighteenth century, Shakespeare and Milton, and a wide range of travel literature.

Radcliffe as a girl is likely to have been exposed to educational issues discussed within the Wedgwood circle, which also conducted experiments in education involving children of both sexes. The later publication of her novels coincided with an intensification of the debate on female education, which peaked in the 1790s.1 Her novels make apparent that Radcliffe studied some of the central issues with increasing seriousness and depth of understanding, particularly the place of sensibility and the moral education of women. But the failures of the educational model that Radcliffe came to know, above all its failure to ensure the maturity of women and meaningful social roles, are reflected in the Gothic form intrinsic to Radcliffe's fiction. Thus I interpret the novels as studies in the psychopathology of childhood. Although Radcliffe hoped for an education for women that would secure their virtue and sensitivity, her novels actually hold up to society a distorting mirror in which the preceptors of women appear fiendish and predatory.

That Radcliffe was concerned with education is apparent in all her novels from the first, The Castles Athlin and Dunbayne, the opening pages of which consider the heroine's education. Radcliffe's reading of Rousseau's Emile is manifest in The Romance of the Forest, in which the character of La Luc is modeled on Rousseau's Savoyard vicar. The most elaborate treatment of female education appears in the early chapters of Udolpho, where Radcliffe dwells at some length on St. Aubert's upbringing of Emily and his valedictory precepts to her before his death. Radcliffe's views on education cannot be identified with those of St. Aubert, however, but they do correspond significantly with contemporary discussions by such writers as Thomas Gisborne and Hannah More. Her handling of the issues, however, suggests a profound, if unconscious, distrust of the ideological implications of current practices in female education, which she is likely to have encountered with the Wedgwood circle and perhaps even in her own experience.

Radcliffe was related maternally to a wide and influential world. Her uncle was Thomas Bentley, who became the partner of Josiah Wedgwood the potter in 1769, and appears to have been keenly interested in education. Wedgwood's first surviving letter to Bentley, in 1762, refers to "an excellent piece upon female education, which I once had the pleasure of reading in MS." and which Bentley is urged to publish (i:2). As a child, she stayed with Bentley at his Chelsea house: the longest period appears to have been autumn, 1771, to spring, 1772, when Ann was aged seven.

Apart from Bentley's direct influence, Ann would also have become aware of contemporary educational practice in the example of Wedgwood's daughter (Susannah [1765–1817]), who was one year younger than Ann and who, upon marrying Dr. Robert Darwin in 1796, became the mother of Charles Darwin. Susannah stayed either with Bentley or at a nearby school in Chelsea called Blacklands between October, 1775, and April, 1778. She seems to have received the standard education for a girl. Wedgwood speaks in one letter of her improvements "as well in her general carriage, & behavior, as in her Music, Drawing & c." (ii:302-03).

Female education when Radcliffe was growing up placed its primary focus on accomplishments. Many critics noted that these were merely utilitarian and subverted any genuine educational achievement. In a diary entry of 1784, for example, Mrs. Thrale (later Piozzi) writes that the female student's "Mother only loads her with Allurements, as a Rustic lays Bird Lime on Twigs, to decoy & catch the unwary Traveller"—that is, a husband (i: 590-91). Yet these same accomplishments constitute almost all that we first see of an Emily or an Ellena, to whom Valancourt or Vivaldi respond in textbook manner by falling immediately and irrevocably in love. Radcliffe's heroines, in fact, keep themselves occupied very much as contemporary guides recommended. Gisborne's Enquiry (1797) suggests improving reading (citing poets that Radcliffe particularly prized, such as Milton, Thomson, Gray, Mason, and Cowper), including poems that instill a sense of the sublime in nature; and he urges the performance of regular acts of charity to poor neighbors (223). Ellena, in The Italian, supports herself by selling fine work anonymously through the local convent, somewhat after the manner of Mrs. Cooper's shop in London, noticed by Priscilla Wakefield, which discreetly sold goods made by ladies in deprived circumstances (115).

But in themselves accomplishments are insufficient, as Radcliffe's novels imply. Numerous parents in the 1790s enabled their sons and daughters to ape the manners of the upper classes by attending boarding schools, but as Catherine Macaulay warned, such a polite exterior "is liable to change into a determined rudeness whenever motives of caprice or vanity intervene" (172)—a change that occurs only too readily in the case of a Madame Cheron. The touchstone of Emily's virtue, as with Valancourt, is unswerving sensibility, whether to poetry or to nature. Radcliffe thus accepts the prototype, which so many boarding schools were designed to reproduce, in endowing her heroines with all the fashionable accomplishments; but she shows its limitations at the same time, a stance that ennobles her heroines but weakens their credibility as protagonists.

The physical ideal of womanhood that evolved toward the end of the eighteenth century was equally damaging. Increasing restrictions on body shape and clothing meant, in Lawrence Stone's account, "extreme slimness, a pale complexion and slow languid movements, all of which were deliberately inculcated in the most expensive boarding schools" (Family 445). Weakness of body and mind seems to have given women greater sexual attractiveness by increasing the scope for male control. As Fanny Burney's Mr. Lovel in Evelina says, "I have an insuperable aversion to strength, either of body or mind, in a female" (361). Radcliffe's heroines, who are capable of little physical exertion and often faint, seem close to this anorexic paradigm. The achievement of this ideal formed the "hidden curriculum" of their schooling. Female education in Radcliffe's period was not primarily about singing or embroidery, it was the enforcement of an anemic, passive, and compliant disposition to prolong women's childhood state constantly on the edge of adolescence. Thus, in Athlin and Dunbayne, Mary's indisposition makes her more attractive to Alleyn since it gives her "an interesting languor, more enchanting than the vivacity of blooming health" (110). In her later novels Radcliffe achieves similar effects through the emotional suffering of her heroines, which renders the countenance "more interesting" (Udolpho 161).

Besides the heroines' illnesses, their childlike qualities contribute directly to their attractiveness. This is stated most blatantly in Romance of the Forest when Theodore reflects that Adeline's charms are best described by the lines of a poem: "Oh! have you seen, bath'd in the morning dew, / The budding rose its infant bloom display; / When first its virgin tints unfold to view" (Forest 172). Wollstonecraft bitterly complains about this view, speaking of women "hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility" (149). Adeline is also said to be amiable, beautiful, and possessing a simplicity of manners (29); she has a love of virtue that makes it difficult for her to dissemble (160). She has just those virtues, in fact, that More advocates in her Strictures (1799) while complaining about women's passion for dress and ornament: "Modesty, simplicity, humility, economy, prudence, liberality, charity are almost inseparably, and not very remotely, connected with an habitual victory over personal vanity and a turn to personal expense" (i:336). Such a heroine is simultaneously strong and weak; she has the finest, best-honed moral sense yet is liable to faint at every critical moment (although the frequency of fainting fits steadily diminishes across Radcliffe's novels).2 The source of this paradox emerges with the role of moral instruction in Radcliffe's fiction, that is, the use of the precept.

In Udolpho the most important education received by the heroine is largely in the form of precepts; yet Radcliffe manages this ambiguously. Emily's father appears to subscribe to a model of female education similar to More's, although his precepts may not be intended at face value. Va-Iancourt's elder brother is described "haranguing on the virtues of mildness and moderation:" (117), which seems to caricature St. Aubert's advice to Emily. Madame Cheron frequently talks in precepts: "she failed not to inculcate the duties of humility and gratitude" (121). More disturbingly, however, Montoni also speaks in maxims, referring to "friends who assisted in rescuing you from the romantic illusions of sentiment … they are only the snares of childhood, and should be vanquished the moment you escape from the nursery" (196)—an even more brutal version of St. Aubert's advice to Emily. Also, Cheron's precepts, based as she claims on "a little plain sense" (204) or "only common sense" (205), are shown actually to involve an acceptance of and complicity in the world of Montoni. Thus, common sense is invoked to disguise patriarchal tyranny. Not coincidently, then, while Montoni attempts to gain control over Emily's property, he talks to her in precepts: "you should learn and practise the virtues, which are indispensable to a woman—sincerity, uniformity of conduct and obedience" (270).3 Compliance and self-control are demanded by the preceptor in contrast to the method of the teacher, who emphasizes development in the pupil's own interests—a role rarely found in Radcliffe's fiction (except perhaps Madame de Menon in A Sicilian Romance ).

Therefore, precepts may be the primary agents of the patriarchal perspective, like Polonius's toward his children; preceptors invariably stand against sensibility. Feeling must be controlled by the patriarchal force of reason since feeling is an agent of discovery and would enable its possessor to challenge the preceptor's authority. Thus although Radcliffe seems on the one hand to applaud the precepts of a St. Aubert, on the other hand the tenor of her novels points not only to the inadequacy of such precepts, but also suggests that those who wield them are agents of repression or terror. In educating Emily, St. Aubert strives "to teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings, and to look, with cool examination, upon the disappointments he sometimes threw in her way" (Udolpho 5). But as Robert Kiely notes, "the incongruity between human behavior and moral principles which increases as the book progresses is strangely prefigured in Emily's philosophical father" (71), who fails to abide by his own precepts. While he speaks to Emily of controlling her feelings by reason or mind on the day of her mother's funeral (20-21)—surely a highly premature injunction—he himself is unable in 20 years to overcome his grief at the death of his sister, the poisoned Marchioness de Villerois (660). This prevents his letting Emily know that he even had such a sister, and his silence borders on the culpable, since her knowledge of this piece of family history might have alerted her to the danger of Montoni's guardianship. Whether Radcliffe expected readers to infer that is not clear; her plot lacks internal consistency. The surface structure of her fiction, with its notorious explanations of the supernatural, supports the principles of reason and a rational control over sensibility, and St. Aubert is rendered a mouthpiece for precepts from contemporary treatises on female education. Yet these same principles are repeatedly subverted by Radcliffe's focus on extreme states of feeling. By placing her heroines at the borders of perception and rationality, she enables their aroused sensibilities to acquire knowledge essential for survival.

Radcliffe's handling of sensibility is thus equivocal at a critical juncture of cultural change. More, for example, in her early poem to Mrs. Boscawan "Sensibility," written in 1782, gives her subject high praise: "Unprompted moral! sudden sense of right!" (i:34). In the Strictures of 1799, however, several pages warn of the dangers of sensibility, and she withdraws her earlier trust in its moral powers. Women of sensibility, she declares, "are apt to employ the wrong instrument to accomplish the right end. They employ the passions to do the work of the judgment" (i:380). Richard Edgeworth, who brought up his first son on principles of freedom and sensibility inspired by Rousseau, later moved away from sensibility. When considering female education with his coauthor Maria Edgeworth he advises, "we must cultivate the reasoning powers at the same time that we repress the enthusiasm of fine feeling" (i:380). Radcliffe occupies both sides of this debate. She accepts the high valuation placed on women's moral judgment in shaping society through the men they influence (a role on which More and others insisted). For example, Adeline, Emily, and Ellena decide to reject immediate marriage with their suitors at a critical moment, thus becoming moral guides to the men. At the same time, Radcliffe values the impulses of sensibility in ways that More and Edgeworth reprobated. Anticipating the Edgeworths, she makes St. Aubert warn Emily, in terms very similar to ones used by More or the others, "do not indulge in the pride of fine feelings, the romantic error of amiable minds" (Udolpho 80). Yet such rational caution has serious limitations.

Contemporary education manuals emphasize keeping females occupied, hence the ceaseless cultivation of accomplishments such as embroidery, etching, drawing, or ribbon work. A woman should carefully avoid reverie, as More stresses. "she, who early imposes on herself a habit of strict attention to whatever she is engaged in, begins to wage early war with wandering thoughts, useless reveries, and that disqualifying train of busy, but unprofitable imaginations …" (i:336). But Radcliffe likely would have disagreed with these prescriptions. Although Emily, for instance, feels some guilt when she notices that she has dropped her needlework and fallen into a reverie or has lingered in communion with the falling dusk and the sounds of nature, this is when her sensibilities, thus activated, register the signals that contribute in the long run to her safety. For Emily—and Ellena after her—reverie provides a training in anticipatory reflection on her plight; it becomes soon enough a more urgent interpreting of various critical events and the intellectual study of the logic of different possibilities. To imagine a particular outcome is to gain some control over its actuality. Radcliffe heroines spend an increasing amount of time doing this, as the ratio of action to cogitation decreases over the course of her novels. Reverie strengthens, not weakens, the preparedness of the Radcliffe heroine.

Thus to debate the priority of reason or sensibility in Radcliffe is perhaps fallacious. The novels demonstrate the convergence of these faculties, that sensibility itself is a form of reason. "Despite its elaborate assertions of the need to dominate feeling by reason," as Spacks observes, "The Mysteries of Udolpho dramatizes the power of feeling to guide people accurately" (174). Hence, Radcliffe presents an insight that Coleridge or Wordsworth shortly offers more explicitly: for example, Coleridge claims in 1803 that his philosophy is "to make the Reason spread Light over our Feelings, to make our Feelings diffuse vital Warmth thro' our Reason" (Notebooks i:1623). Thus feelings, far from coming under the control of reason, increasingly guide the heroine's behavior. Conger, noting this, points to Ellena's sudden suspicion of Spalatro's food in The Italian (216): "Here is one of Radcliffe's most successful fictional demonstrations of the finely tuned sensibility in action, and one that presents that sensibility unequivocally as an instinctive survival skill" (135). Radcliffe also extends the heroine's clairvoyance to premonitory dreams, such as Adeline's, which lead her to her murdered father's manuscript (Forest 108-110), a device in which Radcliffe improves upon a predecessor's strategy (Clara Reeve's Old English Baron [1778]).

Despite these significant accomplishments, however, the Radcliffe heroine oddly fails to mature either socially or psychologically. Although she survives her ordeals in order to marry and, presumably, bear children, she seems quite untouched by the succession of terrifying experiences she has had to endure. Udolpho, in the words of Macdonald (1989), is "a novel of education in which her heroine starts out with nothing to learn, a novel of maturation in which her heroine ends up as innocent, and as infantile, as she began" (203; also Kiely 78, Howells 9). This analysis applies to the heroines of all the novels. Radcliffe's vision, then, cannot encompass maturation.

At the same time, the Gothic heroine is a survivor, as Punter has suggested (11). Representative of some aspect of actual female experience, she survives amidst the social disruptions and gender politics of the late eighteenth century, but only at the cost of considerable psychological injury. She is the plaything of a Gothic machinery that involves removal of parents, extreme social isolation, prolonged incarcerations, and states of excessive terror, all of which symbolize a predicament that in reality is too threatening to be adequately comprehended.

The repetitive nature of Radcliffe's plots, not only within each novel but from one novel to the next, points to a version of the repetition compulsion which, as Freud pointed out, lies at the root of the uncanny (xvii:238). Endlessly replicating situations of terror, the novels point to a primary source in the experience of women of Radcliffe's generation, the repeated failure to master a trauma. The remarkable success of the Gothic genre she created shows that the representation of woman's predicament in her novels met an urgent cultural need, not just in the 1790s, but in the several decades and numerous imitators that followed.

Although critics have noted that Radcliffe's Gothic fictions occupy a borderland poised between natural and supernatural, the suspense this causes mainly serves plot machinery. Their evocation of a more important psychological borderland generates their genuine emotional power, that between childhood and adulthood. Punter's point that readers of Gothic fiction are free to indulge in regressive visions does not fully account for the experience of women writers such as Radcliffe and their first female readers.4 Our regressive vision was their historic reality. In this sense, the infantilism imposed on women during the Romantic period perpetuates the psychodrama of early childhood, manifest in the plot of such a novel as The Italian as uncanny appearances and connections, meaningful coincidences (portrayed as providence), and the omnipotence of the prevailing powers of church and class. The reader's emotions, in short, reproduce the response to the oppressors that controlled women's lives.

Above all, the hallucinatory symptoms that occur in terror reflect as in a distorting mirror the ethical framework of 1790s patriarchy, with its extravagant and psychotic ethical demands on women. In this world, even the suspicion of a single ethical slip by a woman precipitates a fall into the abyss of ruin; a scale of retribution both disproportionate to the degree of guilt incurred and radically different from that under which men operated.5 This primitive and savage ethical order imposed upon women suggests one source for the atavism of the Gothic novel, the fear of pollution springing from women's sexuality. As Paul Ricoeur comments on the fear of defilement: "When [man] first wished to express the order in the world, he began by expressing it in the language of retribution" (30). Working out this problematic, Gothic fiction partly desexualizes its heroine by pushing her back across the borders of adolescence, at the same time visiting upon her massive and not entirely explicable sufferings. These serve to increase her sensibilities, sometimes to hallucinatory intensity, but this supplies the heroine's strength as well as her liability. As Emily reflects, "when the mind has once begun to yield to the weakness of superstition, trifles impress it with the force of conviction" (Udolpho 634-35). Yet much of the behavior that preserves her at Udol-pho derives from just such conviction based upon apparent trifles—a few words, gestures, remote sounds.

But the heroine's hallucinatory perceptions are not merely fantasy, even though they are often factually mistaken at the banal level of plot. A hallucination intimates repressed unconscious thoughts. As Freud remarks in speaking of "conversion hysteria," a hallucination reproduces in disguised form the actual experience when the repression occurred (xx:111). In this way Radcliffe disguises experiences that properly belong to childhood animism, in which no events are unexplained or random; every strange sight or sound holds a meaning with felt personal significance, even though this significance may be obscure or inexplicable. Just so does a Radcliffe heroine respond with hallucinatory intensity to the sights and sounds around her. Although the animism is later withdrawn in the bathos of explanation (Macdonald 199), the intimated meaning often remains in force and fails to dispel the atmosphere of threat or providence surrounding the heroine. For example, the improbable coincidences on which a Radcliffe plot depends are never adequately explained.6 Such animism belongs normally only to childhood, but it is likely to be reawakened later in life during crises, such as separation or bereavement. Radcliffe seems to replay such a crisis in the plot of each of her novels, given that her heroines find themselves bereft of one or, usually, both parents, leaving the heroine exposed to vengeful or providential powers beyond her understanding or control. The plot, in other words, replays the regression to animism, in which nothing is meaningless. As Freud says, animism is the "most consistent and exhaustive" and "truly complete" explanation of the universe (xiii:77).

Another dimension of such animism is that the internalizing of the preceptor's voice, which psychoanalytically produces the superego or conscience, is incomplete. Thus the threatening behavior of a Montalt, a Montoni, or a Schedoni echoes the paternal language of the late eighteenth century toward Radcliffe's generation. These men are indeed the "monstrous and phantastic" parental images of which Melanie Klein speaks (250), but in Radcliffe they are not merely outgrowths of the inner aggressive impulses to which Klein attributes them; they correspond to the actual forces that shaped the lives of women and sought to confine them to a state of perpetual adolescence. The Gothic thus embodies the chronic paranoia imposed upon women, easy to ridicule or disregard, as the high culture of the period did only too readily, but representing a genuine persecution nonetheless.

Radcliffe's novels thereby reproduce the kind of persecution often seen in modern clinical reports of hallucinations, especially those of children (Cain 205, Pilowsky 10). At the same time, her heroine's stories invariably replicate the precipitants for hallucinations—being orphaned, isolated, and set adrift in conditions of sensory deprivation (imprisoned in a castle or a convent); in addition, the novels follow a wish-fulfillment pattern, repeated across all the novels, of ultimate rescue by a hero of similar adolescent attributes, following successive failures at deliverance. As the problems faced by women outside the novel are insoluble, neither is development possible for the fictional heroines; they have virtually nothing to learn that would be of use, and they contribute nothing to the society to which they supposedly return after their persecutions cease (and it should be noted that the social structures that facilitated their persecutions remain intact, whether class, religion, or gender). Protagonists such as Ellena and Vivaldi are thus given only the most elementary and contingent of concerns, arising from their love and the various predicaments that follow from it. This is in striking contrast to a Montoni or Schedoni, whose concerns relate to a complex social system of rewards, privileges, and duties. While their concerns are ended only by their deaths, the concerns of Ellena and Vivaldi, by contrast, end with marriage. Hence, the aptness of the refrain that sounds through the last chapter of The Italian, "0! giorno felice!" signifying the story's end. With their elementary problems resolved, Ellena and Vivaldi's story has nothing to sustain it beyond a single day. This final freeze frame betrays the stasis in which the women Radcliffe portrays are trapped. Another century must elapse before such Gothic congealment would begin to loosen its regressive grip.


1. Miller lists the number of publications devoted to the "character, duties and education of women" in Britain: in the decade beginning 1760 there were 16, in 1770, 23; 1780, 25; 1790, 41; 1800, 35; 1810, 13 (492-98).

2. Someone faints on average after every 11 pages in Athlin (converting the page sizes of the Arno reprint to those of the Oxford editions), 18 pages in Sicilian, 40 pages in Forest, 48 pages in Udolpho, and 52 pages in The Italian.

3. Anne Mellor's recent discussion of the sublime in Udolpho touches on this question: "Radcliffe's point is clear: the deepest terror aroused by the masculine sublime originates in the exercise of patriarchal authority within the home" (93).

4. Punter refers to our pleasure in "being able to peer backwards through our own personal history, because all psychotic states are simply perpetuations of landscapes which we have all inhabited at some stage in our early infancy" (8).

5. Even Radcliffe's preoccupation with the incarceration of her heroines seems less a mere fantasy in light of how often wives were forcibly and legally confined by their husbands (Stone, Road 164-69).

6. Perhaps the most absurd examples are from Forest, where the fleeing La Mottes and Adeline end up at the Abbey of St. Clair, which just happens to be owned by Adeline's uncle, and when Peter and Adeline flee to his village in the Savoy, Adeline just happens to end up living with La Luc, the father of her lover Theodore, but all the novels depend in some degree on such coincidences.

Works Cited

Burney, Fanny. Evelina. Ed. Edward A. Bloom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Cain, Albert C. "The Impact of Parental Suicide on Children." The Child and Death. Ed. Olle Jane Z. Sahler. St. Louis: Mosby, 1978.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. Kathleen Coburn. London: Routledge, 1957–.

Conger, Syndy. "Sensibility Restored: Radcliffe's Answer to Lewis's The Monk." Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression. Ed. Kenneth W. Graham. New York: AMS Press, 1989.

Edgeworth, Richard and Maria. Practical Education. 1798. London: Hunter, 1815.

Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1955–74.

Gisborne, Thomas. Enquiry Into the Duties of the Female Set. London: Cadell, 1797.

Hay, Mary. Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women. London: Johnson, 1798.

Howells, Coral Ann. Love, Mystery, and Misery. London: Athlone Press, 1978.

Kiely, Robert. The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972.

Klein, Melanie. Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works, 1921–1945. London: Hogarth Press, 1975.

Macdonald, D. L "Bathos and Repetition: The Uncanny in Radcliffe." Journal of Narrative Technique 19:2 (1989), 197-204.

Macaulay, Catherine. Letters on Education: With Observations on Religious and Metaphysical Subjects. London: Dilly, 1790.

Mellor, Anne. Romanticism and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Miller, Peter J. Appendix B. "The Education of the English Lady, 1770–1820." Diss. University of Alberta, 1969.

More, Hannah. Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education. The Complete Works of Hannah More. New York: Harper, 1835.

Piowsky, Daniel. "Problems in Determining the Presence of Hallucinations in Children." Hallucinations in Children. Ed. Daniel Pilowsky and William Chambers. Washington: American Psychiatry Press, 1986.

Piozzi, Hester Lynch. Thraliana: The Diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale. Ed. Katherine C. Balderston. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951.

Punter, David. "Narrative and Psychology in Gothic Fiction." Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression. Ed. Kenneth W. Graham. New York AMS Press, 1989. 1-27.

Radcliffe, Ann. The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. 1821; rpt. New York Arno: Press, 1972.

――――――. The Italian. Ed. Frederick Garber. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

――――――. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Ed. Bonamy Dobrée. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

――――――. The Romance of the Forest. Ed. Chloe Chard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Ricoeur, Paul. The Symbolism of Evil. Trans. Emerson Buchanan. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century English Novels. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500–1800. New York Harper, 1977.

――――――. Road to Divorce: England 1530–1987. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Wakefield, Priscilla. Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex; with Suggestions for Its Improvement. London: Johnson, 1798.

Wedgewood, Josiah. Letters of Josiah Wedgewood: 1762–1795. 3 Vols. Ed. Katherine Eufemia Farrer. 1903; rpt. Manchester: Morton, 1973.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 2nd ed. Ed. Carol H. Poston. New York: Norton, 1988.


The Mysteries of Udolpho


SOURCE: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. A review of Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. Critical Review (August 1794): 361-72.

In the following excerpt from a review of The Mysteries of Udolpho, Coleridge faults the work as a substandard effort, compared to Radcliffe's earlier literary achievements.

[The Mysteries of Udolpho does not] require the name of its author to ascertain that it comes from the same hand [that produced The Romance of the Forest ]. The same powers of description are displayed, the same predilection is discovered for the wonderful and the gloomy—the same mysterious terrors are continually exciting in the mind the idea of a supernatural appearance, keeping us, as it were, upon the very edge and confines of the world of spirits, and yet are ingeniously explained by familiar causes; curiosity is kept upon the stretch from page to page, and from volume to volume, and the secret, which the reader thinks himself every instant on the point of penetrating, flies like a phantom before him, and eludes his eagerness till the very last moment of protracted expectation. This art of escaping the guesses of the reader has been improved and brought to perfection along with the reader's sagacity…. In this contest of curiosity on one side, and invention on the other, Mrs. Radcliffe has certainly the advantage. She delights in concealing her plan with the most artificial contrivance, and seems to amuse herself with saying, at every turn and doubling of the story, 'Now you think you have me, but I shall take care to disappoint you.' This method is, however, liable to the following inconvenience, that in the search of what is new, an author is apt to forget what is natural; and, in rejecting the more obvious conclusions, to take those which are less satisfactory. The trite and the extravagant are the Scylla and Charybdis of writers who deal in fiction. With regard to the work before us, while we acknowledge the extraordinary powers of Mrs. Radcliffe, some readers will be inclined to doubt whether they have been exerted in the present work with equal effect as in the Romance of the Forest. Four volumes cannot depend entirely on terrific incidents and intricacy of story. They require character, unity of design, a delineation of the scenes of real life, and the variety of well supported contrast. The Mysteries of Udolpho are indeed relieved by much elegant description and picturesque scenery; but in the descriptions there is too much of sameness: the pine and the larch tree wave, and the full moon pours its lustre through almost every chapter. Curiosity is raised oftener than it is gratified; or rather, it is raised so high that no adequate gratification can be given it; the interest is completely dissolved when once the adventure is finished, and the reader, when he is got to the end of the work, looks about in vain for the spell which had bound him so strongly to it. There are other little defects, which impartiality obliges us to notice. The manners do not sufficiently correspond with the aera the author has chosen…. The character of Annette, a talkative waiting-maid, is much worn, and that of the aunt, madame Cheron, is too low and selfish to excite any degree of interest, or justify the dangers her niece exposes herself to for her sake. We must likewise observe, that the adventures do not sufficiently point to one centre….

These volumes are interspersed with many pieces of poetry, some beautiful, all pleasing, but rather monotonous…. [Poetical] beauties have not a fair chance of being attended to, amidst the stronger interest inspired by such a series of adventures. The love of poetry is a taste; curiosity is a kind of appetite, and hurries headlong on, impatient for its complete gratification….

If, in consequence of the criticisms impartiality has obliged us to make upon this novel, the author should feel disposed to ask us, Who will write a better? we boldly answer her, Yourself; when no longer disposed to sacrifice excellence to quantity, and lengthen out a story for the sake of filling an additional volume.


SOURCE: Enfield, William. Review of The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. The Monthly Review (November 1794): 278-83.

In the following review, Enfield offers a highly favorable assessment of The Mysteries of Udolpho.


The enthusiasm which greeted Walpole's enchanted castle and Miss Reeve's carefully manipulated ghost, indicated an eager desire for a new type of fiction in which the known and familiar were superseded by the strange and supernatural. To meet this end Mrs. Radcliffe suddenly came forward with her attractive store of mysteries, and it was probably her timely appearance that saved the Gothic tale from an early death. The vogue of the novel of terror, though undoubtedly stimulated by German influence, was mainly due to her popularity and success. The writers of the first half of the nineteenth century abound in references to her works, and she thus still enjoys a shadowy, ghost-like celebrity. Many who have never had the curiosity to explore the labyrinths of the underground passages, with which her castles are invariably honeycombed, or who have never shuddered with apprehension before the "black veil," know of their existence through Northanger Abbey, and have probably also read how Thackeray at school amused himself and his friends by drawing illustrations of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels.

SOURCE: Birkhead, Edith. "'The Novel of Suspense': Mrs. Radcliffe." In The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance, pp. 38-62. London: Constable & Company, Ltd., 1921.

If the merit of fictitious narratives may be estimated by their power of pleasing, Mrs. Radcliffe's romances will be entitled to rank highly in the scale of literary excellence. There are, we believe, few readers of novels who have not been delighted with her Romance of the Forest; and we incur little risque in predicting that the Mysteries of Udolpho will be perused with equal pleasure.

The works of this ingenious writer not only possess, in common with many other productions of the same class, the agreeable qualities of correctness of sentiment and elegance of style, but are also distinguished by a rich vein of invention, which supplies an endless variety of incidents to fill the imagination of the reader; by an admirable ingenuity of contrivance to awaken his curiosity, and to bind him in the chains of suspence; and by a vigour of conception and a delicacy of feeling which are capable of producing the strongest sympathetic emotions, whether of pity or terror. Both these passions are excited in the present romance, but chiefly the latter; and we admire the enchanting power with which the author at her pleasure seizes and detains them. We are no less pleased with the proofs of sound judgment, which appear in the selection of proper circumstances to produce a distinct and full exhibition, before the reader's fancy, both of persons and events; and, still more, in the care which has been taken to preserve his mind in one uniform tone of sentiment, by presenting to it a long continued train of scenes and incidents, which harmonize with each other.

Through the whole of the first volume, the emotions which the writer intends to excite are entirely of the tender kind. Emily, the heroine of the tale, early becomes familiar with sorrow, through the death of her parents; yet not before the reader is made acquainted with their characters and manners, and has accompanied them through a number of interesting circumstances, sufficient to dispose him to the exercise of tender sympathy. At the same time, her heart receives, by slow and imperceptible degrees, the soft impressions of love; and the reader is permitted, without the introduction of any dissonant feelings, to enjoy the luxury of observing the rise and progress of this passion, and of sympathising with the lovers in every diversity of sentiment, which an uncommon vicissitude of events could produce; till, at last, Emily is separated from her Valancourt, to experience a sad variety of woe. With the interesting narrative of this volume, are frequently interwoven descriptions of nature in the rich and beautiful country of the South of France, which are perfectly in unison with the story; at the same time that they display, in a favourable light, the writer's powers of fancy and of language, and afford no small addition to the reader's gratification. We should have great pleasure, would our limits permit, in giving to our readers some specimens of these descriptions.

Something of the marvellous is introduced in the first volume, sufficient to throw an interesting air of mystery over the story; and the reader feels the pleasing agitation of uncertainty concerning several circumstances, of which the writer has had the address not to give a glance of explanation till toward the close of the work. In the remaining volumes, however, her genius is employed to raise up forms which chill the soul with horror; and tales are told that are no less fitted to "quell each trembling heart with grateful terror," than those with which, "by night,

The village matron round the blazing hearth Suspends her infant audience."

Without introducing into her narrative any thing really supernatural, Mrs. Radcliffe has contrived to produce as powerful an effect as if the invisible world had been obedient to her magic spell; and the reader experiences in perfection the strange luxury of artificial terror, without being obliged for a moment to hoodwink his reason, or to yield to the weakness of superstitious credulity. We shall not forestall his pleasure by detailing the particulars: but we will not hesitate to say, in general, that, within the limits of nature and probability, a story so well contrived to hold curiosity in pleasing suspence, and at the same time to agitate the soul with strong emotions of sympathetic terror, has seldom been produced.

Another part of the merit of this novel must not be overlooked. The characters are drawn with uncommon distinctness, propriety, and boldness. Emily, the principal female character, being naturally possessed of delicate sensibility and warm affection, is early warned by her father against indulging the pride of fine feelings,—(the romantic error of amiable minds,)—and is taught that the strength of fortitude is more valuable than the grace of sensibility. Hence she acquires a habit of self command, which gives a mild dignity to her manners, and a steady firmness to her conduct. She is patient under authority, without tameness or cunning. Desirous, in the first place, of her own approbation, she is equally unaffected by the praise and the censure of fools. In love, she is tender and ardent without weakness, and constant notwithstanding every inducement, from interest or terror, to abandon the object of her affection. Good sense effectually fortifies her against superstitious fear; and a noble integrity and sublime piety support her in the midst of terrors and dangers. In the character and fortunes of Emily's aunt, Madame Cheron, to whom her sufferings are solely owing, is exhibited an example of the mischief which silly pride brings on itself and others. Dazzled with shew, she wants the sense both to discern merit and to detect imposture: supercilious in her condescension, and ostentatious in her pity, she inflicts cruel wounds without intention; she admires and despises by turns, and equally without reason: she neither bears injuries with meekness nor resents them with dignity; and her exasperated pride vents itself in feeble lamentation, and prevents her from using the necessary means for her safety, till at length it exposes her to cruel insults, and precipitates her destruction.—Montoni, her second husband, is an Italian of strong talents, but of an abandoned character and desperate fortune: he is unprincipled, dauntless, and enterprising; reserved through pride and discontent, deep craft conceals all his plans: wild and various in his passions, yet capable of making them all bend to his interest, he is the cause of cruel wretchedness and infinite terror to those who are under his power. Some gleams of comic humour play through the gloom of the story, in the character and conversation of the faithful servant Annette, who has an insuperable propensity to credulity, and an irresistible impulse to communication: but whose naïveté, simple honesty, and affection, render her character interesting. Several other portraits are drawn with equal strength; for which we must refer to the volumes.

The numerous mysteries of the plot are fully disclosed in the conclusion, and the reader is perfectly satisfied at finding villainy punished, and steady virtue and persevering affection rewarded. If there be any part of the story which lies open to material objection, it is that which makes Valancourt, Emily's lover, fall into disgraceful indiscretions during her absence, and into a temporary alienation of affection. This, in a young man of noble principles and exalted sentiments, after such a long intimacy, and such a series of incidents tending to give permanency to his passion and stability to his character, we must think unnatural. The performance would in our opinion have been more perfect, as well as more pleasing, if Du Pont, Emily's unsuccessful admirer, had never appeared; and if Valancourt had been, as Emily expected, her deliverer from the Castle of Udolpho. The story, we apprehend, might have been easily brought to its present termination on this supposition.

The embellishments of the work are highly finished. The descriptions are rich, glowing, and varied: they discover a vigorous imagination, and an uncommon command of language; and many of them would furnish admirable subjects for the pencil of the painter. If the reader, in the eagerness of curiosity, should be tempted to pass over any of them for the sake of proceeding more rapidly with the story, he will do both himself and the author injustice. They recur, however, too frequently; and, consequently, a similarity of expression is often perceptible. Several of the pieces of poetry are elegant performances, but they would have appeared with more advantage as a separate publication.

Our readers may form some judgment of the writer's descriptive and poetical talents from the following specimen; the scene of which is at Venice:

'In the cool of the evening the party embarked in Montoni's gondola, and rowed out upon the sea. The red glow of sun-set still touched the waves, and lingered in the west, where the melancholy gleam seemed slowly expiring, while the dark blue of the upper æther began to twinkle with stars. Emily sat, given up to pensive and sweet emotions. The smoothness of the water, over which she glided, its reflected images—a new heaven and trembling stars below the waves, with shadowy outlines of towers and porticos, conspired with the stillness of the hour, interrupted only by the passing wave, or the notes of distant music, to raise those emotions to enthusiasm. As she listened to the measured sound of the oars, and to the remote warblings that came in the breeze, her softened mind returned to the memory of St. Aubert and to Valancourt, and tears stole to her eyes. The rays of the moon, strengthening as the shadows deepened, soon after threw a silvery gleam upon her countenance, which was partly shaded by a thin black veil, and touched it with inimitable softness. Hers was the contour of a Madona, with the sensibility of a Magdalen; and the pensive uplifted eye, with the tear that glittered on her cheek, confirmed the expression of the character.

'The last strain of distant music now died in air, for the gondola was far upon the waves, and the party determined to have music of their own. The Count Morano, who sat next to Emily, and who had been observing her for some time in silence, snatched up a lute, and struck the chords with the finger of harmony herself, while his voice, a fine tenor, accompanied them in a rondeau full of tender sadness. To him, indeed, might have been applied that beautiful exhortation of an English poet, had it then existed:

        —"Strike up, my master,
But touch the strings with a religious softness!
Teach sounds to languish through the night's dull ear
Till Melancholy starts from off her couch,
And Carelessness grows concert to attention!"
With such powers of expression the Count sang the following

     'Soft as yon silver ray, that sleeps
     Upon the ocean's trembling tide;
     Soft as the air, that lightly sweeps
     Yon sail, that swells in stately pride;
     'Soft as the surge's stealing note,
     That dies along the distant shores,
     Or warbled strain, that sinks remote—
     So soft the sigh my bosom pours!
     'True as the wave to Cynthia's ray,
     True as the vessel to the breeze,
     True as the soul to music's sway,
     Or music to Venetian seas;
     'Soft as yon silver beams that sleep
     Upon the ocean's trembling breast;
     So soft, so true, fond Love shall weep,
     So soft, so true, with thee shall rest.'

After the remarks which we have already made, we need scarcely add our recommendation of these interesting volumes to general readers.


SOURCE: Graham, Kenneth W. "Emily's Demon-Lover: The Gothic Revolution and The Mysteries of Udolpho." In Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited by Kenneth W. Graham, pp. 163-71. New York: AMS Press, 1989.

In the following essay, Graham discusses the narrative pace of The Mysteries of Udolpho and how it works to build suspense and evoke the revolutionary spirit of Gothic fiction in a storyline that contains very little actual action.

In a metaphor that Ann Radcliffe probably and perhaps rightly would have found lacking in taste, Robert Scholes compares the act of fiction with the act of sex:

For what connects fiction … with sex is the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence and detumescence, of tension and resolution, of intensification to the point of climax and consummation. In the sophisticated forms of fiction, as in the sophisticated practice of sex, much of the art consists of delaying climax within the framework of desire in order to prolong the pleasurable act itself.1

Although the quotation is taken from a discussion of John Fowles' The Magus, it shows a startling aptness to Mrs. Radcliffe's fictional method which is to draw out a situation longer than seems possible by delaying the climax. The amplitude of her accomplishment becomes apparent when one measures the majesty of the three to four bulky volumes that comprise each of her novels against the modest paragraph that could contain a just summary of her plot. That so much impends in Ann Radcliffe's fictions and so little happens is surely evidence of an astonishing degree of narrative sophistication.

It is precisely in the attenuation of threatening situations that Mrs. Radcliffe's chief success and chief fascination as a writer of Gothic romances lie. Her employment of suspense entraps her readers in a mounting rhythm of excitement and irresolution as terror succeeds terror, while the climax, a total and satisfying release from tension, is continually promised and continually postponed. Because the terrors themselves derive intensity from vague threatenings of moral dissolution, a sexual metaphor for the rhythm of tension and intermission seems an appropriate one. Thus her narrative method, approximating that described by Scholes, operates through delaying climax within a framework of both fear and desire.

That she employed such a method, and repeated it in most of her romances, suggests that Mrs. Radcliffe was addressing her narratives to a human psychology more complex than those of the reductionist theories current in eighteenth-century Britain from Locke's tabula rasa2 to Hartley's materialist associationism. To direct, as I think she does, a significant overtone of her narratives at pre-rational levels of human consciousness is to commit something of a revolutionary act. While it may appear absurd (and, indeed, ill-bred) to argue an affinity between the refined Mrs. Radcliffe and the sans-culottes who stormed the Bastille, it is fruitful to consider the Marquis de Sade's observation that the Gothic novel was an inevitable result of the revolutionary shocks that all Europe was feeling during these revolutionary times.3 For Sade, what links the Gothic novel to the revolution is its willingness to extend the boundaries that convention ascribes to the concept of human nature, its willingness to call for the aid of hell to present the whole truth of human depravity. Those impending calamities on which Mrs. Radcliffe's narratives focus such lingering attention are the product of an imagination prepared to acknowledge the diabolical. When Dr. Johnson dismissed the poems of Ossian with the declaration: "Sir, a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it,"4 he was voicing a traditional ethical distrust of the unregulated imagination, a fear of the monsters the abandoned mind might spawn. Ann Radcliffe's are the novels of a respectable woman. They manifest an apparent capitulation to all the restraints, decorums and tyrannies of late eighteenth-century conventionalities in erotic and ethical matters. Yet she overcame many restrictions with subtle audacity: her narratives insinuate the dissolution of the very conventionalities they uphold. They continually anticipate perils, contemplate imminent assaults on the social order in the crimes of murder, incest and rape, and thus extend an imaginative validity to evil in its most vicious forms. To recall Dr. Johnson's warnings in Rambler No. 4 against the romance for its "wild strain of imagination," its heating the mind "with incredibilities," its creation of men "splendidly wicked" whose "resemblance ought no more to be preserved, than the art of murdering without pain,"5 and to note how her romances return repeatedly to situations in which moral values seem threatened by splendidly wicked men is to perceive how wholeheartedly Ann Radcliffe had embraced a revolutionary aesthetic.

The Mysteries of Udolpho is vitally revolutionary in a manner that the marquis would approve and Dr. Johnson might well protest. The momentum of the account builds towards a situation rich in imaginative possibility that Mrs. Radcliffe hastens to establish and labours to prolong: the maiden is in perilous proximity to the villain in the castle and the hero is locked out. It is one of those situations that we have come to recognize as typically, even archetypically, Gothic. The castle, its centrality underlined in the very title of Mrs. Radcliffe's romance, is prison-like in its function of keeping people in and out. But it is more intricate than a prison or bastion: it is described as "a strange, rambling place."6 Emily is "perplexed by the numerous turnings"; "she feared to open one of the many doors that offered"; she "began to fear that she might … lose herself in the intricacies of the castle" (I 262). Such passages show Radcliffe's Gothic castle to be a kind of labyrinth and a labyrinth is, of course, a place of peril and misdirection where a monster lurks and where the maiden may be held in bondage. Versions of the labyrinth that resound through Cretan legend, Sleeping Beauty's wall of thorns and Brünhilde's wall of fire point to contrasting interpretations: it is a place of sterility from which the hero's rescue of his bride betokens a return of fruitfulness to the wasteland, or it is a place of fearful virility in which the demon-lover has entrapped the enthralled maiden. In the Gothic novel the second emphasis predominates: the monster in the labyrinth is Manfred in his castle, looking to beget an heir to Otranto upon the frightened Isabella; it is Ambrosio in the catacombs, holding Antonia in thrall to his lust; and, of course, it is Montoni, whose ominous presence forms the forefront of Emily's anxious apprehensions. The allure of the Gothic situation lies chiefly in the vulnerability of the maiden to the dark designs and unpredictable violence of the Gothic villain.

The Montoni that emerges from Mrs. Radcliffe's narrative is a potentially-explosive force of obscure purposes who smoulders in the shadows of his castle like a monster in its labyrinth. She makes him alien to the novel's system of values. He is cruel, unresponsive to domesticity and indifferent to the picturesque, yet he is handsome: his eyes are somber and sparkling and his features "manly and expressive." Radcliffe underlines his sexual attractiveness with repeated references to his terrible energies, desperate temper and vigorous passion. Each turn of the page threatens to reveal a feudal noble of barely-bridled sensuality, l'homme fatal, the enslaver of woman, a perilously absorbing mixture of Don Juan and Bluebeard.

As is usual with Radcliffe, the illusion is more potent than the reality. Viewed objectively, Montoni's life forms a pattern of unfulfillment. He gambles in casinos but loses. He is ambitious to be a military leader but becomes only a robber captain, one whose capture is perfunctory when the narrative has no further use for him. Despite his displays of passion and energy, he lacks sexual drive. He marries Mme. Charon to obtain her money; yet he does not see through her pretensions of wealth, nor does he make sure of what fortune she has before he marries her. Since Mme. Charon has neither wit nor beauty with which to beguile him, his lack of judgment in these matters is astonishing. After marriage he grumbles, blusters and threatens in order to obtain her property. He does not succeed and after Mme. Charon's death he has to make Emily the target of blusterings and threatenings, with similar unsuccess. To sustain the role given him, Ann Radcliffe made Montoni surprisingly impotent.

When we seek the source of the lasting impression of Montoni as the smouldering, passionate demon-lover, we discover the figure to be almost wholly the creation of Emily, the chaste, pure maiden. At an early meeting "Emily felt admiration, but … it was mixed with a degree of fear she know not exactly wherefore" (I 23). When through marriage Montoni becomes head of her family, Emily watches him eagerly, trying to fathom from his gloomy features the thoughts concealed beneath. "Emily observed these written characters of his thought with deep interest and not without some degree of awe, when she considered that she was entirely in his power" (I 195). We might assume this last reflection to be ac-companied by a frisson of anxious apprehension. Emily's mind dwells on Montoni, creates of him a figure of Burkean sublimity that both attracts and repels her. He frightens and fascinates her because he undermines her notions of patriarchy and domesticity. Her father had been a man of feeling; Montoni is a man of action and cruelty. His "stern manners" contrast with "the tenderness and affection to which she had been accustomed till she lost her parents" (I 239). He disorients her and threatens her conditionings. Domesticity and filial affection become disturbingly intermingled in her mind with vague shadowings of slavery and incest. She is agitated by his presence: "… Montoni is coming himself to seek me! In the present state of his mind, his purpose must be desperate" (II 100). Montoni represents a vital disorder foreign to Emily's values and she exaggerates his power and makes of him an erotic fantasy based on terror.7 Consciously Emily fears and deplores Montoni, yet his presence lingers in her mind as if her spirit is reaching out after him, longing for the unspeakable fulfillment that he represents.

Emily's irrational attraction to Montoni reflects one facet of Mrs. Radcliffe's awareness of the potency of that central Gothic situation that brings together maiden, villain and castle over which her narrative lingers with such unconscionable sophistication. As Mrs. Radcliffe seems to have been aware, the ambivalence of Emily's love-hate attitude to her demon-lover reflects the ambivalence of her century towards the unregulated imagination. Mrs. Radcliffe may have held the belief with Dr. Johnson that "he that thinks reasonably must think morally"8 but her works manifest a stronger interest in the statement's corollary about the irrational and the immoral. In the inclination of her narratives to contemplate human kinship with mystery and human fascination with evil, Mrs. Radcliffe seems to reveal an attitude that has more in common with the Marquis de Sade than with Dr. Johnson. Sade's own attraction to the Gothic novel is connected to a similar willingness to suspend ethical concerns in order to contemplate the perils of the maiden perplexed in a Gothic labyrinth where each turning may carry her into the clutches of the monster. Such willingness means for Sade a shadowing forth of his own revolutionary credo that the unnatural is natural. What is revolutionary about the Gothic novel in general and The Mysteries of Udolpho in particular is an assumed license to contemplate levels of human thought and behaviour hitherto almost ignored in literature of the eighteenth-century. In Emily's disconcerted mind are opposed versions of reality. One is a comforting world of pastoral domesticity and sensibility centered on two almost interchangeable male figures, her father St. Aubert and her lover Valancourt. They inhabit the providential and ordered world that begins the novel

On the pleasant banks of the Garonne … stood … that chateau of Monsieur St. Aubert. From its windows were seen the pastoral landscapes of Guienne and Gascony, stretching along the river, gay with luxuriant woods and vines, and plantations of olives.

                                        (I 1)

and ends it:

Oh! how joyful it is to tell of happiness such as that of Valancourt and Emily; to relate that … they were at length restored to each other—to the beloved landscape of their native country—to the securest felicity of this life … while the bowers of La Vallée became once more the retreat of goodness, wisdom, and domestic blessedness!

                                   (II, 344)

The other world flourishes in the secret inner spaces of Emily's nervous apprehensions; it is the disordered and labyrinthine world of barely-controlled passion and energy centred on the male figure of Montoni. The demonic world looms in the body of the narative. Ann Radcliffe is careful to emphasize that this world is an aberration, yet her narrative lingers there. Her imagination abides unjustifiably long in conditions of ambivalence, where, at least aesthetically, the rational is not superior to the irrational, the moral to the immoral, the providential to the demonic. When considering the Gothic in a revolutionary perspective, it is easy to underestimate Ann Radcliffe's achievement. Compared to the projections of fragmented psychologies in Godwin's Caleb Williams and the audacious portrayals of living evil in works of Beckford and Lewis, Radcliffe's hintings and suggestings may appear unduly hesitant. In the tension between conventional sanctities and the desire to transgress limits, the sanctities are explicitly dominant and the woman wailing for her demon lover remains well beneath the levels of Emily's consciousness. That woman's existence is never acknowledged yet her presence is felt as Emily is haunted by apprehensions both supernatural and sexual. Ann Radcliffe's art lies in the careful balancing of the explicit and the implicit that permits her to be revolutionary without ceasing to be conventional. Triumphantly, her art leaves the unspeakable unspoken.


1. Robert Scholes, "The Orgastic Fiction of John Fowles". The Hollins Critic, VI, 5 (December, 1969), 1.

2. Indeed, Locke's tabula rasa theory, by cutting man off from his unconscious, gave impetus to a general rejection of the total psyche in eighteenth-century psychological theory.

3. "… il devenait le fruit indispensable des secousses révolutionnaires dont l'Europe entière se ressentait." Marquis de Sade, "Idée sur les Romans" in Les Crimes de L'Amour, Oevres Complètes, vol. 10 (Paris: Au Cercle du Livre Précieux, 1966), p. 15.

4. Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, 6 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, n.d.), IV, 211.

5. Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 4 in Selected Writings, ed. R.T. Davies (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1965), 76-79.

6. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, 2 vols. (London: J.M. Dent, 1931; rpt. 1962), I, 234. Subsequent citations from the novel will be taken from this edition and page references enclosed within parentheses and inserted in the text.

7. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. J.T. Boulton (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), pp. 86, 65.

8. Samuel Johnson, "Preface to Shakespeare," Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Sherbo (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), vol VII of the Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, p. 71.

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It is a curious coincidence of literary history that the stars that reigned in the year of the nativity of The Castle of Otranto (1764) saw the birth of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe (née Ward), in whose works we perceive the Gothic fiction approaching its meridian. Not much is known about her life, except that she was the wife of an Oxford graduate, and that she wrote her weird and mysterious tales beside a blazing fire in a quiet room to enliven her long, solitary winter evenings. Extraordinarily fascinating stories flowed from her pen which, with all their faults, unmistakably bear the stamp of genius. The name of this potent enchantress, who touched the secret springs of fear and extended the domain of romance, was felt as a spell by her admirers, and to this day her blood-curdling terrors freeze many a midnight reader.

SOURCE: Varma, Devendra P. "Mrs. Ann Radcliffe: The Craft of Terror." In The Gothic Flame: Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence, Disintegration, and Residuary Influences, pp. 85-128. London: Arthur Barker, 1957.

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Anderson, Howard. "Gothic Heroes." In The English Hero, 1660–1800, edited by Robert Folkenflik, pp. 205-21. Newark, Del. and London: University of Delaware Press and Associated University Press, 1982.

Analyzes the male characters in The Mysteries of Udolpho and measures their complexity and traits versus the men in such works as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk, and Radcliffe's The Italian.

Castle, Terry. "The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho." In The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown, pp. 231-53. New York: Methuen, 1987.

Points out that although critics of The Mysteries of Udolpho usually focus on the Gothic episodes of the novel that occur at the castle, the events in the other sections of the book also deserve attention for their fantastical undertones and preoccupation with death and the dead.

――――――. Introduction to The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, pp. vii-xxvi. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

While agreeing with other critical assessments that Radcliffe's work is erratic and seriously flawed, argues that The Mysteries of Udolpho should not be dismissed completely because the novel has a definite emotional power that the unprejudiced reader can learn to appreciate.

Durant, David. "Ann Radcliffe and the Conservative Gothic." SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 22, no. 3 (summer 1982): 519-30.

Insists that Radcliffe is not a forerunner of the Romantic movement in England. Her reactionary nature in the novels, Durant points out, can be seen in the way she rejected the chaos she perceived in contemporary life and advocated a return to the pastoral simplicity symbolized by the family circle.

Epstein, Lynne. "Mrs. Radcliffe's Landscapes: The Influence of Three Landscape Painters on Her Nature Descriptions." Hartford Studies in Literature 1, no. 2 (1969): 107-20.

Explores the relationship between Radcliffe's depiction of landscape and her acquaintance with three seventeenth-century landscape painters: Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorrain, and Nicolas Poussin.

Fawcett, Mary Laughlin. "Udolpho's Primal Mystery." SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 23, no. 3 (summer 1983): 481-94.

Explores the underlying sexual themes in The Mysteries of Udolpho, and theorizes that Gothic novels can be seen not just as escapist literature but, when viewed psychoanalytically, as symbolic explorations into thoughts and desires that are suppressed within the mind.

Flaxman, Rhoda L. "Radcliffe's Dual Modes of Vision." In Fetter'd or Free? British Women Novelists, 1670–1815, edited by Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski, pp. 124-33. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986.

Urges the recognition of Radcliffe's work as innovative for its time, emphasizing the author's descriptive skills and highlighting her particular techniques in painting a scene.

Howells, Coral Ann. "Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho." In Love, Mystery and Misery: Feeling in Gothic Fiction, pp. 28-61. London: Athlone Press, 1978.

Analyzes the manner in which Radcliffe stimulates the imagination of her readers. According to Howell, Radcliffe uses her characters to reflect emotion and activate the reader's "pattern of emotional association." Concludes that Radcliffe always remains a separate presence in control of her narrative so that she can always be "manipulating her readers' responses."

――――――. "The Pleasure of the Woman's Text: Ann Radcliffe's Subtle Transgressions in The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian." In Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited by Kenneth W. Graham, pp. 151-61. New York: AMS Press, 1989.

Maintains that when the reader examines particular passages in The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian that do not appear to fit well within the rest of the narratives, a pattern evolves involving transgressions and the appropriateness of women's feelings.

Kiely, Robert. "The Mysteries of Udolpho: Ann Radcliffe." In The Romantic Novel in England, pp. 65-80. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972.

Compares Emily St. Aubert, the heroine of The Mysteries of Udolpho, with earlier heroines of the English novel, and finds that Emily is unique because "both the moral and material aspects of her ordeal are subordinated to the struggle which takes place within her mind." Argues that the achievement of the novel is "the projection of the nonrational mentality into a total environment"; in this, Kiely asserts, Radcliffe "has succeeded in doing something new for the novel."

MacKenzie, Scott. "Ann Radcliffe's Gothic Narrative and the Readers at Home." Studies in the Novel 31, no. 4 (winter 1999): 409-31.

Discusses Radcliffe's Gothic style and its effects on the eighteenth-century public mind.

Miles, Robert. Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995, 201 p.

Book-length study of Radcliffe's life and works from a sociopolitical perspective, offering aesthetic and historical context.

Moers, Ellen. "Traveling Heroinism: Gothic for Heroines." In Literary Women, pp. 122-40. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.

Emphasizes "a locus of heroinism" in Radcliffe's Gothic fantasies, which later women "have turned to feminist purposes." Recognizes the theme of the dangers of sensibility in Radcliffe's work, and compares Radcliffe with Fanny Burney, noting similarities in their treatment of "the horrors of a woman's life."

Murray, E. B. Ann Radcliffe. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972, 178 p.

Overview of Radcliffe's life and major works, and an evaluation of her literary legacy.

Raleigh, Sir Walter. "The Revival of Romance." In The English Novel: Being a Short Sketch of Its History from the Earliest Time to the Appearance of "Waverly." Fifth edition, pp. 216-52. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

Commends Radcliffe's handling of suspense, fine use of romance conventions, and effective manipulation of scenery and sensation. In exhibiting these characteristics in her prose, Raleigh maintains, Radcliffe "anticipated and guided the poetry of the Romantic revival."

Sypher, Wylie. "Social Ambiguity in a Gothic Novel." Partisan Review 12, no. 1 (1945): 50-60.

Detects beneath the surface of Radcliffe's work "a pattern of socioeconomic contradictions, paradoxes, ambivalences, and ambiguity that affords some criteria of the greater romantics and of British romanticism generally." The principal ambiguity in The Mysteries of Udolpho, according to Sypher, lies between "aesthetic values and moral values."

Talfourd, Thomas Noon. "Memoir of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Radcliffe." In Gaston de Blondeville; or, The Court of Henry III, Vol. I, by Ann Radcliffe, 1826. Reprint edition, pp. i.-cxxxii, New York: Arno Press, 1972.

First memoir ever written about Radcliffe; prefixed to the posthumously published Gaston de Blondeville. Praises Radcliffe's literary innovations, her "daring economy" in employing "instruments of fear," and her excellent portrayal of scenery, but acknowledges her shortcomings in the area of characterization.

Tompkins, J. M. S. "The Gothic Romance." In The Popular Novel in England: 1770–1800. 1932. Reprint edition, pp. 243-95. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961.

States that Radcliffe's novels are "unashamedly romantic, with no didactic intent," and stresses that Radcliffe contributed to the development of the psychological novel in her analyses of fear, adding that many of her prose passages are unmatched in eighteenth-century fiction.

Tooley, Brenda. "Gothic Utopia: Heretical Sanctuary in Ann Radcliffe's The Italian." Utopian Studies 11, no. 2 (2000): 42-56.

Asserts that "Radcliffe's Gothic tale participates in a strategy whereby British Gothic writers situate their novels at a discreet distance (spatially and/or temporally) from current events while at the same time commenting upon political and familial questions sparked by the Revolutionary decade."

Woolf, Virginia. "Phases of Fiction." In Granite and Rainbow: Essays, pp. 93-145. London: Hogarth Press, 1958.

Essay originally published serially in The Bookman, New York, in 1929. Considers descriptive writing to be Radcliffe's greatest talent, but argues that, because she is incapable of creating in her readers a mood which would make the mysteries believable, Radcliffe's books are ultimately "stale, forced, unappetizing."


Additional coverage of Radcliffe's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 39, 178; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 6, 55, 106; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; Supernatural Fiction Writers; and World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3.

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Radcliffe, Ann (1764 - 1823)

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