It’s the birthday of English author Ann Radcliffe (books by this author), born in London (1764). Radcliffe was an early champion of the Gothic novel, which embraced supernatural elements in the story.
Though her books are widely acclaimed for their influence, no one knows the details of Radcliffe’s personal life. When she died, her obituary read, “She never appeared in public, nor mingled in private society, but kept herself apart, like the sweet bird that sings its solitary notes, shrouded and unseen.” Fellow author Christina Rossetti tried to write a biography on Radcliffe, but could not find enough information to go through with it.
Radcliffe’s novels The Italian and The Mysteries of Udolpho made her the highest-paid writer of her era. At the time, her work was classified not as Gothic but as “romance.” Unlike other Gothic authors, Radcliffe’s supernatural happenings always had rational explanation. Her characters suffered from imagined terrors rather than physical dangers, envisioning ghosts or evils that weren’t always there.
In an essay that Radcliffe’s husband released after her death, she writes of the difference between emotional terror (which she embraced) and physical horror (which she refuted): “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.”