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Mary Ann Radcliffe

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

by Samantha Gibbs, MA student, May 2004

‘All this seemed vastly like a novel!’: Writing the Life of Mary Anne Radcliffe in The Fate of Velina de Guidova and Manfroné; or, the One-Handed Monk

It has been influentially argued that the novels of eighteenth-century women writers bear the indelible marks of their social, economic and cultural subordination; certainly, they are products of a patriarchal culture that restricted women in every aspect of their lives. Feminist literary criticism has questioned the criteria of aesthetic value that has confined these works to the shadows, and fresh analysis has generated readings of subversion and subterfuge. Yet ‘the fiction of this century was a curious reflection and denial of contemporary life and thought’ (MacCarthy 1947, 1994: 283), which reinforced prescribed notions of femininity as it rejected them. I propose to discuss this paradox in relation to two novels by Mary Anne Radcliffe, The Fate of Velina de Guidova (1790) and Manfroné; or, the One-handed Monk (1809), and to examine the reasons for her portrayal of a reality so at odds with her own life, which she vividly dramatised in The Memoirs of Mrs. M. A. Radcliffe in Familiar Letters to her Female Friend (1810) and used as the basis for her political polemic The Female Advocate; or An Attempt to Recover the Rights of Women from Male Usurpation (1799).
In many ways, Mary Anne Radcliffe’s life epitomised the struggle of women in the eighteenth-century to survive in a male-centred world. It was characterised by severe financial adversity, and ill health, as a result of years spent in countless physically demanding and emotionally draining jobs. Such were the twists and turns of her life that Radcliffe remarked it ‘seemed vastly like a novel!’ (MEM: II.18), yet her novels depict a world far removed from the poverty and destitution she argued so strongly against in The Female Advocate. Rather, their conservatism situates them firmly within the group of mass-produced novels by women in the period. When Radcliffe published The Fate of Velina de Guidova in 1790, demand for novels was at a peak, made possible by the expansion of the reading public and new methods of distributing and marketing books. Fiction was eagerly consumed, and the market flooded, but the volume of literature being produced by women who were turning to writing for a living provoked a harsh critical response. Tompkins, whose study of the novel became the standard work on the period (1), sums up the common conception when she writes that ‘the two chief facts about the novel are its popularity as a form of entertainment and its inferiority as a form of art’ (Tompkins 1965: 1). Anxieties about the effects of novel reading on supposedly naïve young women verged on moral panic proportions; Terry Lovell has argued that it was ‘merely the first of a series which occurred whenever a new cultural commodity made its debut’ (Lovell 1987: 8), but fears about novels were derived from fears about female self-expression, and women exposing themselves to public view, and it is the link to female sexuality that makes this an essentially feminist debate (2). Paradoxically, the‘unfeminine’ rise of women’s literary professionalism actually reinforced more restrictive notions of femininity.
In Radcliffe’s novels, as in so many others, plots of endurance and trial are commonplace; both of her heroines, Velina and Rosalina, must overcome family feuding and prolonged separation from their lovers, during which time they are subjected to attempted forced marriages, kidnappings and imprisonment, to finally be reunited with their hero. Anguished declarations of love, tears and faintings are commonplace, and improbable coincidences abound to hint at a providentially superintended universe; in the most unlikely of all, Manfoné, whose has his hand severed by the Duca di Rodolpho in the opening chapter, later finds it washed up on the shores of Lake Abruzzo, and, in a stroke of prophetic justice, attaches it to the sword which he uses to kill the Duca. Characters often personify types rather than being individuals, and in some cases are indiscriminate from each other. Usually, they are subordinated to the didactic imperative of the novel, which in The Fate of Velina de Guidova and Manfroné is clear and insistent. In her memoirs, Radcliffe continually alludes to her elopement at the age of 15 with her husband-to-be, a decision, she says, which was to be her downfall, and she hopes that the story of her life ‘may prove a useful lesson…by pointing out the real necessity of guarding strictly against the danger of falling into the pit of misfortunes - the road to which is ever open to the unwary’ (MEM: Preface, iv). Her fictional heroines tread a thin line between virtue, and consequent happiness, and the figurative ‘pit of misfortunes’ that could be their fate, should they, like Radcliffe, make a wrong decision: for Rosalina, ‘[t]he path she had to tread in her weary pilgrimage was full of craggy rocks, precipices and quicksands, where the least false step would consign her to destruction’ (MAN: I.166).
Radcliffe’s insistent moralising comes from a desire to prevent others from making the same mistakes that she did, and her treatment of her characters gains from the intensity of first-hand experience; to a degree, she sympathises with them rather than caricaturing them. When Velina bemoans that ‘[m]isery has long oppressed me – I have lived of late only to endure’ (FoV: III.106) and hopes that ‘[t]he circle will soon be finished, and peace will come’ (FoV: II.196), she speaks with the same weariness of life that Radcliffe does in her memoirs. Radcliffe’s treatment of marriage is a simultaneous endorsement of the institution and rejection of its social practices; her experiences have convinced her not that marriage isn’t the happy ending her heroines dream of, but that it can still be so if the individual is allowed to chose a partner out of love, not from financial necessity or misguided youth. The choices for women in the eighteenth-century were severely limited; even in marriage, often their single moment of choice, options were limited. Velina’s choice is ‘destroy my father, or destroy myself!’ (FoV: II.170), and Henrique despairs that both of them ‘are sacrificed to narrow policy’ (FoV: III.54). Radcliffe stresses filial obedience, but shows that the parent, as well as the child, can sometimes be misguided. Velina’s father is convinced that the Marquis will provide for his daughter after his death, despite Velina’s questioning of his character; she turns out to be the better judge of character, and he dies regretting his choice. Like Radcliffe herself, Rosalina tries to marry against her parents wishes and in secret - unlike Radcliffe, Rosalina has made the right choice. Yet, like their author, both Velina and Rosalina are wracked with guilt and self-blame for their desire to live a life outside the boundaries of their restrictive existence.
Radcliffe was not unusual in her insistence that her novels serve a morally didactic function; Gothic tales were criticised for being ‘simply moral tales in supernatural dress’ (Napier 1987: 25) (3), although the moral of Manfroné is more explicit than others of the genre, warning readers not to depart from conformity, and concluding with the directive they should extract lessons of virtue and happiness. A strong moral purpose was used as a justification for writing, and self-depreciation softened the critical response. In her preface to The Female Advocate (Appendix D), Radcliffe claims herself ‘sufficiently aware of her inadequacy to the undertaking’ and says its publication ‘has costs her many a painful emotion’ (AD: preface, iv). She writes that ‘timidity’ caused her to consider publishing it anonymously (MEM: XXI.387), and its original title was far less contentious (4). The market favoured conservative attitudes in dealing with position of women, focusing on sentiment rather than literary skill, and Radcliffe would have been unlikely to be published had she departed radically from prevailing attitudes. She wrote under the stimulus of personal need, and all her books were written at the exact moment to capitalise on a literary fad or fashion, her memoirs openly to raise money. As the writer Sarah Fielding remarked in the preface to her novel David Fielding (1744): ‘Perhaps the best excuse that can be made for a woman’s venturing to write at all, is that which really produced this book; Distress in her Circumstances, which she could not so well remove by any other means in her power’ (5). Radcliffe, like many authors, published The Fate of Velina de Guidova anonymously, and only added her title to Manfroné after it had been generally accepted by the public. Like many women writers, she marshalled the deficiencies of her sex in defence of her writing and to ensure publication, apologising for her delineation of vice, and saying she would rather use her pen to record virtues (MAN: II.165) in ‘these imperfect records’ (MAN: II.180). Commercial success was, therefore, at least partly dependent upon a denial of intellectual ability, and this in turn was confirmed by the effect the commercial imperative had on the tone and quality of the writing.
Radcliffe’s determination to deliver a moral does on occasion intrude on the dramatic quality of her stories, and in some instances the flatness of her characters is emphasised when she delivers the message directly through their speech. Rosalina’s meditations on the beauty of the evening are at ill with the forthcoming scene of violence when she is gagged and hurried off by Manfroné. In another instance, the moral masks an attempt to adjust events to fit the story: on father Augustino’s death, the narrator remarks on the pleasing sight of a life well-lived; the point is not, however, to moralise on his death, but to remove him from the story, in order for the Marchese di Montalto to appear at the attempted marriage of Rosalina and Manfroné. The moral of Manfroné, ‘To be good is to be Happy!’, is crudely emphasised by its  spacing from the text of the story, revealing Radcliffe’s uncertainty about its relevance to the narrative. Velina’s moralising in her anguish soon becomes monotonous, and there are no less than three scenes where she is near death through despair, which are pious and drawn out.  As Mary Poovey puts it, novels of the period ‘often echo conduct books almost verbatim, stressing self-control and self-denial to the exclusion of psychological complexity and attributing almost all initiative to the  evil characters rather than to the heroines’ (Poovey 1984: 38). But Poovey has also shown that the self-worth brought about by approval gave women an investment in accepting their roles as obedient daughters and wives. Radcliffe accepts suffering as a necessary for eventual happiness: ‘[s]o finely interwoven are our joys and sorrows, that if we seek to be happy we must submit to be afflicted. Every good has its attendant evil’ (FoV: I.2). Her characters compare their lives to others who suffer more, and are glad for their blessings: Velina’s pain is nothing compared to Adele’s, and Henrique’s elderly friend in Chamouni manages to be thankful for his life, though he thinks his only son dead and is materially poor. As Tompkins has stated, women ‘needed to idealize submission to preserve their self-respect’ (Tompkins 1965: 88).
Restricted to writing about a narrow set of topics considered appropriately ‘feminine’, and creatively stifled by financial necessity, Radcliffe’s treatment of her heroines is unremarkable. Her views of womanhood echo a masculine ideal; Velina and Rosalina are conformist and subservient, and her plots are centred around ideas of pursuit and possession. In their roles as daughters, her heroines insist on filial obedience against remarkable odds. Velina rejects the advances of the ‘bold, presuming, haughty, insensible’ Duke de la Ronda (FoV: I.170), and endures months of heartbreak and parental disapproval, only to submit to the ‘unprincipled, cruel, and deceitful’ (FoV: II.203) Marquis Marialvo, for the mere reason that her father wishes to see her married before he dies. Rosalina’s father, the evil, self-serving Duca di Rodolpho, resorts to imprisoning his daughter and threatening his ‘my eternal, heaviest curse’ (MAN: I.83) to force her to marry Manfroné, with whom he wants to exchange her to pay off a debt, yet she says she ‘never will I forget that I am a daughter’ (MAN: I.124). Although the narrator admits that the Duca’s conduct ‘had been such as totally to banish filial love’ (MAN: IV.14), Rosalina, having escaped imprisonment, is sacrificed to the moral demands of the plot, and proceeds to literally imprison herself by refusing to leave her father’s side. Adherence to ‘proper’ feminine behaviour, which stifled any expression of female sexuality, is celebrated; Velina initially rejects Henrique’s advances in favour of ‘the sweet consolation of a self-approving mind’ (FoV: I.67), and Rosalina stifles her emerging feelings for Montalto as she stops to ‘reflect on the improper step she was taking…which was not only derogatory to her high rank, but also inconsistent with the strict rules of propriety’ (MAN: I.47). Radcliffe heroines are appropriately ‘feminine’, ‘pictures of perfection’, as Austen called them, that ‘make me sick and wicked’ (MacCarthy 1947, 1994: 365) (6). By rewarding her heroines with an apparently happy ending, Radcliffe provided her readers with ‘compensatory gratifications, ideal rewards, and ideal revenges’, which glossed the real political issues for women and ‘discouraged them from seeking material changes in their actual position’ (Poovey 1984: 38). Marriage for women in the eighteenth-century was not the liberating happy ending of novels; it constituted the loss of ‘the very being’ of a woman and her legal rights (7). In accepting marriage as reward for Velina and Rosalina, Radcliffe accepts gender power relations, and binds their potential by an expectation of domestic bliss, the reality of which was a lifetime of subservience.
I have discussed the social conditions that compelled Mary Anne Radcliffe to adhere to prescribed notions of womanhood in her life and in her writing, and their ultimate effect on the tone and subject matter of her novels. Yet her endorsement of restrictive ideologies sits uneasily with her resistance to them; social condemnation of female expression meant that women often didn’t even understand their own needs and desires, but found ways to express them, whether they were aware they were doing so or not. By the time Radcliffe published Manfroné in 1809, women had a growing consciousness of their increasing hold over the reading public; it is no coincidence that the Gothic became popular at a time when women were becoming the primary consumers of novels. Many critics have linked the emergence of the Gothic novel with the real terror and profound political upheaval of the French Revolution (8), and this convergence of fictional and political narratives was also applied to the emancipation of the female sex, with the new spirit of democratic freedom proving justice as the answer to social problems.
By 1809 Radcliffe felt sufficiently confident about her reception to add her name to her work, and Manfroné is her most accomplished novel, thematically and stylistically. She moves effortlessly from the epistolary form of The Fate of Velina to the complex plot structure of Manfroné, with its constant shifts in time and location, and is clearly writing in a mode she is comfortable with. Rosalina faces the same difficulties as Velina, but she must deal with apparent supernatural terror, and in greater isolation. Velina copes well with her abduction, being ‘much more composed than could have been expected’ (FoV: II.122), and is markedly less dramatic when there is actual danger of death through violence, than when she fears dying of despair. She attempts to bargain with the Duke, assuredly telling him:

‘Your perfect silence, my Lord, and your returning me immediately to my father, are the only possible means of obtaining my forgiveness; if you really wish to obtain it you will not hesitate in accepting these terms.’
(FoV: II.128)

She even says that the adventure ‘has not been without a use. It has roused and withdrawn my mind from the weight of suffering with which it was before oppressed’ (FoV:II.135). Rosalina also deals with real terrors – her evil, self-serving father, the loss of her mother, and her abduction and imprisonment – better than illusory ones, but the dangers she must face are far greater than Velina’s. Her pursuit by a succession of predatory men is sinister, and explicitly sexual: at a Ball, a drunken Manfroné lunges at her, sneering that ‘I will gratify by force the longings of my bosom, and then, Rosalina, you may die’ (MAN: IV.171) (9). In her abduction she shows courage and initiative, plotting to befriend the housekeeper to allow her to escape, and tricking Manfroné into admitting his plot to seize her to her father. Rosalina, by far the more competent heroine, has greater control over her destiny; while Velina’s marriage to the man of her choice is only brought about by the coincidence that her first husband is revealed as a murderer, Rosalina wins her man through her refusal to be an object for her father to barter with: ‘My love is not transferable,’ she tells him, ‘Montalto irrevocably possesses it’ (FoV: IV.153). She rejects Manfroné’s advances with astonishing boldness:

‘Gladly would I enter the silent abode of the grave to avoid you; but if that consolation is denied me, I would rather become an inmate with the most disgusting reptiles that crawl the earth, than live in the highest state of worldly magnificence, and condemned to the misery of seeing you. If you think, Manfrone, that in Rosalina you have to deal with a timid wavering female, you are mistaken, for my resolution increases with the difficulties that surround me.’
(FoV: Iv.152)

The Gothic mode allowed for the reconcilement of fantasy with the demands of morality; heroines could be self-reliant and adventurous, without outraging social conventions, and wicked males were blamed for forcing them into situations which made such behaviour absolutely necessary. Feminist critics have argued for subversive readings of Gothic novels, showing how women used themes of imprisonment to try to express their bitter frustration at their lives, which confined them to the home for protection, restricting them from participating in the areas of society where they could wield any real power or influence (10). Gothic novels therefore ‘increasingly became an imaginative vehicle for feminism, since it provided a radical alternative to the daylight reality of conformity and acceptance, offering a dark world of the psyche in which women were the imprisoned victims of men’ (Figes 1982: 57). For Velina, her imprisonment in her new marital home is physical and psychological: ‘it was silent and vacant, and the antique towers which frowned from above deepened the gloom, and chilled my soul. I seemed as if entering my prison’ (FoV: III.82).
The Gothic mode gave Radcliffe licence to develop the characterisation of her heroine, but restrictive ideologies of femininity dictated that there were still subjects deemed inappropriate for her females to discuss. Radcliffe uses her male characters in both novels to voice specifically female concerns; as a woman writer, she could not afford the subjective outpourings of emotion that Richardson could allow Pamela. The most emotive events of Velina’s life, her wedding to the Marquis and her father’s death, are described by the Marquis himself, as Velina finds ‘[t]here are no words for my sufferings; language can be worked into no construction that can express them’ (FoV: III.20). Rigid gender identities are interrogated; on the boat trip, it is Henrique who is affected by the beauty of the surroundings:

‘The evening was as beautiful as the morning. The surrounding scenery cast a pensive stillness on every heart but mine. The bold rocks which overhung the water on the right, were feathered with woods of oak, chestnut and beech…gentle slopes, fringed with olives, and covered with vineyards, whose purple treasures flushed over the whole country; verdant plains watered by the Sahorra, along whose winding banks groups of villagers were dancing to the honour of the vintage: every object breathed delight.’
(FoV: I.52-3)

In marked contrast, Velina’s recollection of the same scene is simply: ‘[t]he beauties of the lake you are well acquainted with: they were heightened by the fineness of the weather’ (I.63).
Radcliffe’s male characters also question social practices. Velina acts with propriety in refusing to allow Henrique to write to her, and only consents because he refuses to leave, judging that him staying would be a greater departure from proper female behaviour, but Henrique makes clear the consequences of the decision she has little choice but to take:

‘I have obeyed you, Velina – I have obeyed you, and what have I done? I have left you to the solicitations of other suitors, more fortunate, perhaps, and more happy. I have left you to the treachery of time and absence; and I have left you to the powerful persuasions of your father! Alas! And for what have I done all this? I have done it in your commands, in obedience to a false delicacy which urged you to forbid my stay!’
(FoV: I.133)

When Henrique refuses to marry Lady Olivia, he argues that ‘[i]n every other concern my father has a right to my submission. I lament that the operation of contrary interests compels me in this instance to disobey him. The happiness of my life depends upon my decision, and to hesitate were to be miserable’ (FoV: I.8); the inference that the individual, whether male or female, should be able to choose for themselves is clear, particularly when the letter from Lorenzo to Henrique which  immediately follows it talks of his love for his new wife, Louisa. Henrique later replies that ‘freedom of choice in a concern so important belongs unquestionably to the person whom it most nearly interests’ (FoV: I.71). Lorenzo’s letters emphasise Henrique’s suitability as a potential husband for Velina, and assure the reader that she should pursue her right to choose.
For all the strategies Radcliffe uses to try to express her frustration at the inequalities of eighteenth-century society, she essentially sees herself as a conformist.
The world of Radcliffe’s novels does not reflect the wider world that she lived in; the beginnings of the industrial revolution, lack of adequate education, conditions of the poor and social neglect are ignored. Yet they do reflect the reality of her existence, one where women were socially, economically and legally powerless, ‘in every sense of the word, scarcely able to wield a feather!’ (MEM: XXI:472-3), and they depict a limited world with home at the centre. Her experience of this limited world led Radcliffe to ‘the impulse to compensate imaginatively for the comparative poverty of [her] professional opportunities,’ which ‘could tempt a woman not only into pure wish-fulfilment but also into taking up a vocabulary and a set of values that automatically undermined even conscious efforts to analyse the realities of her situation’ (Poovey 1984: 38). Fiction became a substitute for the life she would never live, a vicarious wish-fulfilment through which she could find the resolution she otherwise could not - real life did not provide women with these contrived endings.
Novels were more, however, than simply escapism – they were a vehicle for the expression of female desires that were not supposed to exist. Radcliffe’s literary themes mirror those of her life, and her heroines are thinly disguised autobiographical characters who ‘explore, expand and sometimes revise [her] own situations to express or repress [her] own deeply felt desires’ (Poovey 1984: 45). Like her, they are separated from their lovers (11), but they are happily reunited, because they make the right choice in marriage. They are resolved of their guilt at wanting a better life for themselves and are secure in the knowledge that all their choices have been the right ones: of Velina, she says that ‘it often affords her consolation to consider that in the late events she preferred [her father’s] happiness to her own, and that her present situation is the one which would make him rejoice could he now behold it’ (FoV: III.168). Rosalina, having survived the fire which symbolically destroyed her evil father and his accomplices, has learned and triumphed; she has transgressed the sphere of femininity by actively challenging Manfroné and Sebastiano, and inherits the estate that is rightfully hers. Radcliffe’s novels frequently allude to a coming resolution, and are characterised by their need to achieve a ‘state of moral and social equilibrium’, where ‘[t]he vicious are punished, the virtuous are rewarded, and social and ethical imbalances are tidily corrected’ (Napier 1987: 10).
Of course, the link between fictional and non-fictional narratives is a complex one, but the contradiction inherent in Mary Anne Radcliffe’s novels was at the heart of her life; how to challenge the structural inequalities of patriarchal eighteenth-century society, whilst learning to fit in and survive in it. It is simply not sufficient to dismiss female-authored novels of the period as ‘tenth-rate fiction’ (Tompkins: preface, v); such assumptions mask the social conditions that produced such work, which was guided, judged and controlled by contemporary notions of femininity, and deny women their contribution to all aspects of society. Radcliffe blames her misguided choices for her destitution, but her life and her economic destiny were defined and prescribed, and her self-perceptions informed by an ideology which, as Wollstonecraft said, rendered women worthless and educated them accordingly. Yet while she sees herself as a conformist, Radcliffe is acutely aware of the confines of her existence: ‘[w]hat statute is there,’ she asks in The Female Advocate, ‘which grants that man alone shall live, and women scarcely exist?’ (AD: 446). While she was not a feminist by our definition, in her writing she grasps at the underlying concepts of feminism, engaging in politics and questioning its underlying assumptions, guided by the hope that a fairer world for women was within reach, and paving the way for future generations of feminists.  
            Through her memoirs, Radcliffe has become author of her own life; what little biographical information we have about her comes from her own consciously-written record. But in constructing a history of her, we must turn to her novels as her interpretation of her world. As Jane Austen had Anne Elliot remark, men had had the advantage in telling the story - the pen was in their hands. A study of Mary Anne Radcliffe’s life and work shows the necessity of recovering the story of eighteenth-century women - they had a lot to tell.


Works Cited
Ferguson Ellis, Kate (1989) The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press
Figes, Eva (1982) Sex and Subterfuge: Women Writers to 1850 London & Basingstoke: Macmillan
Lovell, Terry (1987) Consuming Fiction London:Verso
MacCarthy, Bridget G. (1947, 1994 with preface by Janet Todd) The Female Pen: Women Writers and Novelists 1621-1818 Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press
Napier, Elizabeth R (1987) The Failure of Gothic: Problems of Disjunction in an Eighteenth-Century Literary Form Oxford: Clarendon Press
Norton, Rictor (1999) Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe London and New York: Leicester University Press
Poovey, Mary (1984) The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Radcliffe, Mary Anne (1790) The Fate of Velina de Guidova London: Lane Available from the Sheffield Hallam University Corvey Collection on microfiche
-----Manfrone; or, the One-Handed Monk (2nd ed., 1819) London: Newman & Co.
Available from the Sheffield Hallam University Corvey Collection on microfiche, or from the British Library (1st ed.), ref: 12601m19
-----The Memoirs of Mrs. M. A. Radcliffe in Familiar letters to her Female Friend and The Female Advocate; or, an Attempt to Recover the Rights of Women from Male Usurpation (1810) Edinburgh: Printed for the author Available at the British library, ref 1203 118
Tompkins, J.M.S (1965) The Popular Novel in England1770-1800 London: Methuen


  1. See Tompkins, J.M.S (1965) The Popular Novel in England1770-1800 London: Methuen
  2. Several critics have made the link between the consumption and ‘devouring’ of literature by women and sexual desire; see Figes, Eva (1982) Sex and Subterfuge: Women Writers to 1850 London & Basingstoke: Macmillan
  3. Napier sees the Gothic as characterised by disjunction, the results of which she says are rarely acknowledged or explored. She does exempt Manfroné from this to an extent, in the light of its moral intent.
  4. The original title was ‘An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain’ (MEM: XXI.387). Her publisher strongly recommended naming it, probably to capitalise on the success of Ann Ward Radcliffe.
  5. From Sarah Fielding’s ‘David Simple’ (1744) [1987] vol I , preface; quoted in Turner, Cheryl (1992, 1994) Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century London: Routledge, p.57.
  6. From Letters of Jane Austen (1816) ed. Bradbourne, ii, p.1 xxxiv
  7. The legal status of women in the eighteenth-century remained under the law of ‘coverture’, which stated that ‘the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least it is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything’. Cited in Poovey, Mary (1984) The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.7.
  8. See Clery, Emma (1995) The Rise of Supernatural Fiction 1762-1800 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, chapter 9 ‘The Terrorist System’. David Punter and Ronald Paulson have also made the link between supernatural terror and the real terrors that had become a commonplace reality.
  9. Manfroné is more explicitly sexual than other novels of its genre, and there are numerous instances of sexual frustration and fear. Eva Figes, who has argued that ‘[r]eally women writers only had two basic plots, and both were related to sex’, says that Gothic novels flirt with sexual danger - ‘the subconscious world not just of sexual danger, but of desirable danger’ (Figes 1982: 16). Such fascinated terror, she states, where subconscious desire leads the mind to replay constant variants of the same theme of pursuit, is the result of repression.
  10. See Ferguson Ellis, Kate (1989) The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Ellis argues that the Gothic subverted the ideological construction of the home as privileged, a safe haven for women, masking its reality as a place which imprisoned them: ‘It is when the home becomes a “separate sphere”, a refuge from violence, that a popular genre comes into being that assumes violation of this cultural ideal’ (p.3). The Gothic represented a repressed, secret world, about which polite culture was supposed to have no knowledge.

11  When Radcliffe leaves for Edinburgh in search of work, she describes her separation from her husband: ‘And to look back I dared not, finding myself unable to support the trial; and in looking forward, I trembled at the length of time that must elapse before we should be again reunited.’ (MEM: VII.109)