Ann Radcliffe (born Ann Ward, 9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823) was an English author and pioneer of Gothic fiction. Her technique of explaining apparently supernatural elements in her novels has been credited with gaining Gothic fiction respectability in the 1790s. Radcliffe occupies, along with Horace Walpole, the position of the innovators of Gothic romances or novels in the history of English novel writing. Such novels are found to indicate a deviation from the conventional novels of the 18th century-the novels of Richardson, Fielding and Fanny Burney,
The Gothic romance or novel is actually the novel of mystery and thrill. Its origin may be traced in Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, which combines the appeal of the Gothic and of the marvelous. This new trend, however, appears to attain its zenith in the works of Anne Radcliffe, who is noted for her books-The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797). These works actually struck the whole of Europe with a new fictional sensation and the novels of terror became a popular mode of writing. Mrs Radcliffe’s importance is here definitely undeniable.
Mrs Radcliffe’s themes are related to mystery and horror. The scene is set in some wild place or ancient castle, full of strange passages and terrifying dungeons. Mrs Radcliffe places her heroine in such a setting and depicts her trials and persecutions. Of course, the end comes smoothly, and the mysteries and terrors are terminated by the heroine’s love- match.
What, however, signifies Mrs Radcliffe’s artistry is a representation of the romantic setting, full of mystery and suspense. There is a taste for wild nature and a haunting attachment to the past. These are all romantic elements and Mrs Radcliffe may be assessed as the first romantic novelist in English literature. The addition of strangeness to beauty, which is defined as the mark of romantic literature, is well perceived in Mrs Radcliffe’s fictional artistry that bears some poetical touches in descriptive details in particular.
As noted already, Mrs Radcliffe’s influence is found immense on the novelists, who followed her. Lewis’s The Monk, Charles Maturin’s Malmoth, the Wanderer, and Mrs Shelley’s Frankenstein are some of the novels of many which are found impelled by Mrs Radcliffe’s Gothic romances.