Ann Radcliffe’s Place in the Gothic Tradition

Literature / April 23, 2015 / No Comments /
The following paper critically examines Ann Radcliffe’s `Mysteries of Udolpho`, focusing specifically on her themes of terror vs. horror, the sublime, sensibility, psychoanalysis and feminist issues.

This paper explores the critical thought surrounding Radcliffe’s work, “The Mysteries of Udolpho”. It also reaches a critical consensus that places Radcliffe squarely in the Gothic genre and finds her psychoanalytic and feminist slants to be prototypical for the time period.
Ann Radcliffe’s gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho was a runaway hit with audiences at the time it was published. However critics both then and now have found reason to problematize Radcliffe’s place in the gothic tradition. Radcliffe is not the first eighteenth century writer to explore terrifying events. The element of fear in the gothic works of the 1700’s grew into an explicitly staged literature of horror, one that sparked a publishing craze where real cultural anxieties were contained and defused in stories of terror. An important theme in Radcliffe’s novel is that of the sublime. The Oxford English Dictionary defines this term’s eighteenth century connotation as: Of things in nature and art: Affecting the mind with a sense of overwhelming grandeur or irresistible power; calculated to inspire awe, deep reverence, or lofty emotion, by reason of its beauty, vastness, or grandeur. (OED) This pre-romantic concept of nature emphasized landscapes that were wild and untamed; scenes that reflected the limitless power of God and created a sense of awe that was thought to be a connection to God. Landscape painting reflected this trend; in landscape architecture, there was a move away from the ideal of a geometric, toward a disordered aesthetic that was nevertheless planned. Landscape painting and the uniform, ordered aesthetic of the beautiful quickly became the picturesque and then the sublime. In order to appreciate the sublime, Radcliffe provides her heroine, Emily, with an intense sensibility, (defined by the OED as a capacity for refined emotion). Evidence of this is apparent in the very first chapter


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