Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ann Radcliffe

Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Loretta reports:

I couldn't bear to cut this one to more digestible length.  She was a bestselling author who influenced Sir Walter Scott, among others, and she's still considered worth studying  in English Lit classes...but, well, young women liked her books and—oh, see for yourself, and tell me what you think of this. 
MRS. ANN RADCLIFFE.—This lady died at Pimlico, on the 10th, February, in the 54th, year of her age. She stood at the head of our Romance writers, in which species of composition she had no rival until Miss Jane Porter arose. The-popularity of Mrs. Radcliffe was at one period of her life so great, that she received considerable sums of money for the use of her name and writing prefaces; thus it stands upon many a title page, though she never wrote a line of the book; this trick of authorship benefited her purse but injured her reputation. Her principal work "The Mysteries of Udolpho," will always be read and admired.* In her description of Alpine scenery, the grandeur and sublimity of her language will never be excelled; those who have visited "Alpine Solitudes," and meditated amongst ruined castles, chateaus and monasteries, embosomed in woods nearly inaccessible from rifted rocks, and fallen torrents, with all the tremendous variety of uncultivated nature, will, in reading Mrs. Radcliffe's descriptions, imagine they have trodden the very places she delineates, it is a singular thing that she never visited the scenes she paints with the ardent imagination of an enthusiast in such gloomy colours; probably the highest hill she ever ascended, was Highgate or Shooter's Hill—the thickest wood she ever explored, Kensington Gardens, and the most amazing torrent that ever met her eye, the tide rushing through the arches of London bridge; imagination and exuberant fancy led her on to the eminence on which she rests. Her life was passed in dull uniformity, never going further than a watering place from Pimlico, where, for thirty years, she resided, her only companion being a huge pampered spaniel, for whose future support she has left £ 10. per annum.

She had an annuity settled upon her when an infant, by the earl of Charlemont (supposed to have been her father.)

She was very charitable, and never known to be out of temper. The greatest failure in her Romances, is where she attempts to describe the passion of love; but it is not to be expected that she could portray what she never felt, the only object of her affection being her dog, which is very remarkable. Mrs. Radcliffe actually believed in ghosts and apparitions, and foretold the hour of her dissolution: when the clock struck one, she doubled down the little finger of her right hand, and said to her attendant, " I shall die at four o'clock," as the hours struck she doubled her fingers, and at four o'clock, pressing down her fore finger, she said, " It is past," and turning her face on the pillow, expired without a groan. Her memory will be cherished by boarding school misses and romantic old maids, but on the shelf of literature her works will ever stand as a memorial of her talents which like her character can only be called, respectable.
From The Rambler's Magazine, Vol. II, 1823.

*They got that right.


Amy DeTrempe said...

I am reading a Sicilian Romance by Radcliffe right now, as are characters in a book I am working on. And the characters just happen to be three girls in boarding school in the early 1800s. Once I got used to her style, which is so different from today, it was so easy to get lost in the world she painted.

nightsmusic said...

I'm ashamed to say I've never read her. I might just have to after reading this :o) Question though, does it have an HEA?

Emma J said...

Have to admit I've never heard of Miss Radcliffe, but this has made me curious. Must hunt her down!

Anonymous said...

This is a classic put-down of an accomplished woman. The writer pretends to pay homage to her, but takes every opportunity to belittle her "ardent imagination", her readers as "boarding school misses and romantic old maids," her life as "dull uniformity", and her talent which "can only be called respectable." He (because it must have been a he) even inserts that bit that the Earl of Charlmont was presumed to be her father, thereby not only branding her as dull, but illegitimate. I've never read any of Ann Radcliffe's worth, but surely she deserved better than this kind of posterity. Sad.

Finegan Antiques said...

I have never read anything by Miss Radcliffe. She appears to be a curious woman with somewhat a sad life. Oh to live life but not really live at all.


LorettaChase said...

I'm going to have to go back and read her again--did so in college when I thought I knew everything, and didn't think Gothic tales worth remembering. Anonymous, you are right on track. This is one POV from one male writer who has lots of prejudices typical of the time. Lady Morgan was also accused of illegitimacy. Women writers--especially highly successful ones--just made a lot of people completely cuckoo. I was pleased to see rave reviews on Amazon, of all places! Finegan, she did what many of us romance writers do. I wrote two books before I got to England. Some authors never travel anywhere. We rely on research and imagination. As Anonymous points out, this is a classic put-down of a woman writer. As I interpreted her life, she was an Introvert. Jane Austen didn't go far from home, either. Wonder what the writer would have made of J.D. Salinger--oh, wait--he was a man.

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