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Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams

  • John Skinner

Abstract

In traditional histories of the novel, the last three decades of the eighteenth century normally receive far less attention than any of the seven before. After its ‘birth’, ‘rise’ or ‘origins’ (tastes in metaphor vary), the novel seems to lose its appeal until the arrival of Jane Austen and the beginnings of a recognizably classic realist tradition. The main victims of this critical neglect have been the Gothic novel and the politically radical novel of the late eighteenth century; the most celebrated examples of each tendency are juxtaposed in the present chapter. It was earlier noted that, of the male proto-canon, Smollett had the longest fiction-writing career. Between Roderick Random (1748: a year before Tom Jones) and Humphry Clinker (1771: three years after A Sentimental Journey) there was an interval of twenty-three years; the literary and conceptual gap seems even greater. If one now moves forward another twenty-three years exactly, there is a striking literary coincidence. The year 1794 saw the publication of two epoch-making novels, superficially quite diverse, but with interesting literary parallels: Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Literary History Late Eighteenth Century Literary Canon Poetic Tradition 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    There are relatively few monographs on Radcliffe, but note David Durant’s Ann Radcliffe’s Novels: Experiments in Setting (New York: Arno, 1980)Google Scholar
  2. Robert Miles’s Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  3. Other seminal essays in collections include Terry Castle’s ‘The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho’, in Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (eds), The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature (London: Methuen, 1987)Google Scholar
  4. Margaret Doody’s ‘Deserts, Ruins and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel’, in Richard Kroll (ed.), The English Novel: Smollett to Austen (Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1998).Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    A seminal study exemplifying this approach is Peter Brooks’s Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (New York: Random House, 1985).Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    The quotation is the main title of D. A. Miller’s Narrative and its Discontents: Problems of Closure in the Traditional Novel (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    The most comprehensive biography is Peter H. Marshall’s William Godwin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  8. As with Radcliffe, monographs on the fiction are few, although B. J. Tysdahl’s William Godwin as Novelist (London: Athlone Press, 1981) is helpful.Google Scholar
  9. All the more important, however, are the separate chapters or essays in more general studies, including: Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel, 1780–1805 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976);Google Scholar
  11. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background, 1760–1830 (London: Oxford University Press, 1981/1995).Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    See Gerald A. Barker’s Grandison’s Heirs: The Paragon’s Progress in the Late Eighteenth-Century Novel (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    David Punter, The Literature of Terror: The Gothic Tradition, 2nd edition, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1980).Google Scholar
  14. See also Robert Miles, Gothic Writing, 1750–1820 (London: Routledge, 1993);Google Scholar
  15. Maggie Kilgour, The Rise of the Gothic Novel (London: Methuen, 1995);Google Scholar
  16. Fred Botting, Gothic (London: Edward Arnold, 1996).Google Scholar
  17. 40.
    See, for example, Cheryl Turner, Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 41.
    See Anne Williams, Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995), p. xiii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© John Skinner 2001

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  • John Skinner

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