Holy “Had I but known”! Mrs. Radcliffe rides again! If you’re a fan of Regency romances, gothic fiction, Jane Austen, or early forms of mystery fiction you may already be aware of Ann Radclifef–Mrs. Radcliffe as she was known at the time. Mrs. Radcliffe was a purveyor of what was swiftly labeled “sensation fiction” and considered damned racy and suspenseful stuff in its day. This is literally the root of gothic fiction dn the more sensational romance novels–including paranormal romance. Rife with heated, purple prose, dangerous action, sexy villians, and cliff-hanger endings, this is the stuff good mamas blanched to see their daughters reading–though most of them read it themselves. It’s not the worst stuff that ever hit the page, but it’s not exactly Pulitzer-grade work. What surprises the unholy poop out of me is that some of Mrs. Radcliff’s work has been reissued! I just found a listing for her then-bestselling suspense tale The Mysteries of Udolpho! at Barnes and Noble. It’s considered by some to be the first “romance” novel in modern terms where the voice and emotional reaction of a female protagonist is the central POV. It’s also one of the earliest Gothic novels and one of the first English novels published by a woman under her own name. It also made Mrs. Radcliffe the bestselling writer in England at the time, bar none.
But all that aside, from a modern perspective, frankly, Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels are slow and a bit predictable, but they’re definitely pot boilers and if you happen to be a fan of Austen’s Emma and Northanger Abbey, Radcliffe may ring a bell. Austen and other later authors have been known to take a few jabs at the redoubtable Mrs. Radcliffe…. So if you’re a fan of gothic fiction or romance and you don’t know the lady, you might want to check her out. I find her totally over the top, but many people love these books to distraction and, to be fair, they were some of the first novels written with a female audience in mind. Give ’em a look (and since they are in the public domain, there are also electronic copies of most of them available online for free if you hunt around.)