Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JULY 9th

On this day in history in 1764, was born Ann Radcliffe.

Radcliffe was a novelist and the pioneer of the Gothic horror novel.

Ann Ward was born in Holborn, London in 1764 and in 1788, married William Radcliffe, a newspaper editor, who, being of literary disposition, encouraged his wife to write. Although she had little by way of formal education, Radcliffe discovered that she had the ability to write in a manner that drew the attention of the public. 

Radcliffe wrote several novels, the plots of which invariable focused on an innocent maiden menaced by a dastardly villain, who locks up his victim in a depressing environment such as a dungeon or gothic castle. Here is an example of her style:  

‘Fate sits on these dark battlements and frowns, and as the portals open to receive me, her voice in sullen echoes through the courts, tells of a nameless deed.'  

The plot of the novels always tells of some seemingly supernatural occurrence, which, at the denouement of the narrative, is demystified. This style of writing, although gauche to today’s reader, became fashionable with the public and authors alike. She was read by the Marquis de Sade, Byron, Scott, Shelley and Wollstonecraft. Her influence can be seen in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.  

After writing six novels, Radcliffe retired from public life. Rumours abounded that she has been driven to insanity by the macabre nature of her literature. In fact, she had been taken ill with a respiratory complaint and, in 1823, died of pneumonia. She is buried in St George’s Church, near where she was born in Holborn. [St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London W1S 1HS]

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