A Biography of Regina Maria Roche by Emma Hodinott
Regina Maria Roche (nee. Dalton) is considered today as a minor Gothic novelist who wrote very much in the shadow of Ann Radcliffe. She was however a best seller in her own time, the popularity of her third novel, The Children of the Abbey, rivalling that of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Born in Waterford, Southern Ireland in 1764, the daughter of Captain Blundell Dalton who was an officer in His Majesty's Fortieth Regiment, she moved to Dublin as a child, where she remained until after her marriage to Ambrose Roche in around 1794, when the couple moved to England.
Her first two novels, The Vicar of Lansdowne, or Country Quarters (1789) and The Maid of the Hamlet (1793), were published under her maiden name and written, by her own admission, ‘at so early a period that those not acquainted with my dear father ascribed (them) to him.’1 In the preface to her debut novel, Roche, demonstrating a keen understanding of the general critical reception of works of popular fiction, appealed to the critics to ‘disregard this humble TALE.’ Certainly, this appeal gained her some attention, her following novel being reviewed far more extensively than her two most enduring works, The Children of the Abbey and Clermont, which were published in 1796 and 1798 respectively, after Roche had moved to England.
The Children of the Abbey was one of the period's most popular novels, a sentimental Gothic Romance, that although written after her marriage was still written during a period when Roche considered herself ‘so young as to know little more of the world.’2 Clermont was Roche's only real attempt at writing a Gothic novel, and is decidedly more 'horrible' than anything else she wrote. Both novels went through several editions and were translated into both French and Spanish. The Nocturnal Visit, Roche's fifth novel, was published in 1800. However, during the period 1800 to 1807, this prolific novelist all but disappeared from the literary world, a pause in production that can be attributed to financial difficulties that she and her husband found themselves in. Cheated out of her patrimony and her husband's life interests through the machinations of an unscrupulous solicitor by the name of Boswell, Roche seemed unable to continue writing until she received financial aid from The Royal Literary Fund. She then went on to produce a further 11 novels between 1807 and 1834: Alvondown Vicarage: A Novel (1807 – apparently lost), The Discarded Son; or Haunt of the Banditti. A Tale (1807), The Houses of Osma and Almeria; or, Convent of St. Ildefonso. A Tale (1810), The Monastery of St. Colomb; or, The Atonement. A Novel (1813), Trecothick Bower; or, the Lady of the West Country. A Tale (1814), The Munster Cottage Boy. A Tale (1820), Bridal of Dunamore; and Lost and Won. Two Tales (1823), The Tradition of the Castle; or, Scenes in the Emerald Isle (1824), The Castle Chapel. A Romantic Tale (1825), Contrast (1828) and The Nun’s Picture. A Tale (1834). Roche’s later works reflect her return to Ireland in the eighteen-twenties in their use of regional Irish settings.
Certain records suggest that Roche was also the author of Eliza; or, The Pattern of Women (1802), London Tales; or, Reflective Portraits (1814) and Anna; or, Edinburgh. A Novel (1815). Most critics agree however that these novels were not written by her, being of an inferior quality to the rest of her body of work and not published by Newman or Lane, Roche’s usual publishers.
That illness and even depression punctuated the later stages of her career is alluded to in her preface to Contrast (1828), in which she describes briefly her ‘long nights of sickness and privation’, which left her in a state of ‘gloom and despair’. Certainly, this was not a happy time for Roche, the death of her ‘dear husband’3 in 1829, leaving her ‘destitute and broken-hearted’4. That much of Roche's sense of despair was borne out of the sufferings of her husband is quite likely, as she refers to his life as an ‘afflicted’5 one. However, she did herself suffer from bouts of debilitating sickness.
Regina Maria Roche's novels were published predominantly by The Minerva Press, her blend of Gothic and Romance with the emphasis tacitly on morality, being very much characteristic of the popular fiction that they published. She was one of this famous publishing house's great success stories, a fact supported by references that Jane Austen made to two works of Roche's in Emma (1816) and Northanger Abbey (1818). The Children of the Abbey was one of Harriet Smith's favourite novels in Emma and Clermont was one of the 'horrid novels' in Northanger Abbey. Roche's inclusion in this list of seven novels has helped to revive interest in her works and Clermont indeed was republished as part of the series of these 'horrid novels' in 1968.
However, despite being immortalised by this canonised writer, Regina Maria Roche, even in her own time, had none of the enduring popularity that Ann Radcliffe enjoyed and she faded from fame to die in literary obscurity at the age of 81 in her home town of Waterford. Her obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine remembers her as a ‘distinguished writer (who) had retired from the world and the world had forgotten her. But many young hearts, now old must remember the effect upon them of her graceful and touching compositions.’
1 Cross, Nigel (ed), 1984, The Royal Literary Fund: 1790-1918, London, World Mircofilms Publications, Reel 17, Case 590.
Austen Jane, 1990, Emma, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Austen, Jane, 1995, Northanger Abbey, London, Penguin.
Cross, Nigel (ed), 1984, The Royal Literary Fund: 1790-1918, London, World Mircofilms Publications, Reel 17, Case 590.
Roche, Regina Maria, 1789, 'Address' in The Vicar of Lansdowne, or Country Quarters, London, William Lane.
Roche, Regina Maria, 1828, ‘Preface’ to Contrast, London, Newman.
Schroeder, Natalie, 'Regina Maria Roche, Popular Novelist, 1789-1834: The Rochean Canon', in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 73, 1979.
The Gentleman's Magazine, July 1845, 86.