|Ann Radcliffe (Wiki)|
|Cover - The Mysteries of Udolpho (Goodreads)|
|Cover - The Italian (Goodreads)|
|Cover, Lake District Observations (Books Cumbria)|
Beyond Dunmail Rays, one of the grand passes from Cumberland into Westmoreland, Helm-crag rears its crest, a strange, fantastic summit, round, yet jagged and splintered, like the wheel of a water-mill, overlooking Grasmere, which, soon after, opened below. A green spreading circle of mountains embosoms this small lake, and, beyond, a wider range rises in amphitheatre, whose rocky tops are rounded and scalloped, yet are great, wild, irregular, and were then overspread with a tint of pale purple.
Like her fiction, her travel prose is flowing and engaging, leading you easily between outward appearance and inward reflection. Many of the famous travel writers of her day were creating books to help artists find the ideal location for a painting - a style known as picturesque: Ann wanted to experience the places in an emotional way, and for their own sake rather than as a source of pictures.
|Cover, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (Goodreads)|
Like many gothic novels, her books are set in a wild and romantic past, typically outside England.They would nowadays be classed as historical novels. For example, Udolpho is set in the late 16th century in southern France and northern Italy. At this stage she had not personally visited either country, but her descriptions are so vivid and compelling that this is very easy to forget. In a day before Google Earth, photography, and widespread international travel, she relied heavily on the accounts of others... yet it is easy to believe as you read her that the accounts are based on personal observation. The wild terrain is a source of delight and inspiration rather than fear and darkness, especially for her women characters who retreat to such locations to find solace and peace. Some of her vocabulary may be old, but her preoccupations and interests still resonate well today.
In short, I feel that Ann Radcliffe deserves to be better known, although on balance I'm not sure that she would mind the rather concealed role she now fills. As early as 1862, Thackeray could lament that the younger generation did not know her works. In fact, most of the major 19th century British authors acknowledge their debt to her - Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Walter Scott, and Charles Dickens, for example - quite apart from those of other countries. like Dostoevsky, whose parents read her books to him in the evenings. However, these people have remained household names, while she has not.
It's appropriate to finish with part of her obituary in the Literary Gazette: "the finest writer in this kind of fiction that ever existed."
About the author:
Richard Abbott is one of the reviewers at The Review, and lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.
When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes From a Life, The Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. and Timing. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.