The Preceptor as Fiend:
Radcliffe's Psychology of the Gothic
David S. Miall
Department of English, University of Alberta, Canada
This essay is an expanded and corrected version of that published in Laura Dabundo, Ed., Jane Austen and Mary Shelley and Their Sisters. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000. pp. 31-43.
© 2000 University Press of America
From the perspective of the 1990s, we might regard the Britain of the 1790s as marked by a pervasive neurosis of the social order. Nowhere is this more evident than in the position assigned to women, who were subjected to a range of legal and social disabilities. Although these disabilities were not new to the 1790s, they acquired a special intensity in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the reaction against all things Jacobin. One notable turning point was the eruption of hysteria following the publication of the first edition of William Godwin's Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, which helped ensure that Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) would quickly lose the regard it had initially enjoyed and would soon fall into obscurity. Another instance is the publication of the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, from The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789) to The Italian (1797). The extraordinary popular success that the novels enjoyed, together with the rash of third-rate imitations that immediately ensued, suggests that the novels fulfilled an urgent social need.
Despite different aims, the writings of both Wollstonecraft and Radcliffe share one obvious preoccupation, concern with the education of women. Both react, although differently, to the contemporary emphasis in fashionable education on feminine accomplishments and the cult of sensibility. The teacher's role in Radcliffe's novels, however, surpasses that of parent or tutor. Suspense or terror, supernatural intimations, the use of the sublime, and the persecution by powerful men also support pedagogical issues; in this respect the novels point to another principle underlying the neurosis of the 1790s. The novels play out the implications of the regressive, semi-childlike state which was enforced upon most women by the prevailing culture -- that "perpetual babyism" of which Mary Hays complained (97). To be more precise, the Radcliffean Gothic is constructed from a psychological machinery that enacts the predicament of the abandoned child, for whom the only resolution available is the temporary one of wish fulfillment. The novels' significance, and their attraction for their first readers, perhaps lies in that they capture the borderline status of women, neither child nor adult, and portray, albeit in disguised and symbolic form, the attendant disabilities to which their middle-class female readers were themselves victim.
Radcliffe probably did not consciously design her novels to explore such issues; on the contrary, their paradoxes of plot and character suggest conflicted, unconscious materials. No record indicates that Radcliffe received any formal education, although her novels show familiarity with English literature of the eighteenth century, Shakespeare and Milton, and a wide range of travel literature.
Radcliffe as a girl is likely to have been exposed to educational issues discussed within the Wedgwood circle, which also conducted experiments in education involving children of both sexes. The later publication of her novels coincided with an intensification of the debate on female education, which peaked in the 1790s.(1) Her novels make apparent that Radcliffe studied some of the central issues with increasing seriousness and depth of understanding, particularly the place of sensibility and the moral education of women. But the failures of the educational model that Radcliffe came to know, above all its failure to ensure the maturity of women and meaningful social roles, are reflected in the Gothic form intrinsic to Radcliffe's fiction. Thus I interpret the novels as studies in the psychopathology of childhood. Although Radcliffe hoped for an education for women that would secure their virtue and sensitivity, her novels actually hold up to society a distorting mirror in which the preceptors of women appear fiendish and predatory.
That Radcliffe was concerned with education is apparent in all her novels from the first, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, the opening pages of which consider the heroine's education. Radcliffe's reading of Rousseau's Emile is manifest in The Romance of the Forest, in which the character of La Luc is modeled on Rousseau's Savoyard vicar. The most elaborate treatment of female education appears in the early chapters of Udolpho, where Radcliffe dwells at some length on St. Aubert's upbringing of Emily and his valedictory precepts to her before his death. Radcliffe's views on education cannot be identified with those of St. Aubert, however, but they do correspond significantly with contemporary discussions by such writers as Thomas Gisborne and Hannah More. Her handling of the issues, however, suggests a profound, if unconscious, distrust of the ideological implications of current practices in female education, which she is likely to have encountered within the Wedgwood circle and perhaps even in her own experience.
Although Ann Radcliffe's father was originally a haberdasher in Holborn, she was related through her mother to a wider and more influential world. Her uncle was Thomas Bentley, who became the partner of Josiah Wedgwood the potter in 1769. Bentley was primarily responsible for managing the London showrooms of Wedgwood, but he also appears to have been keenly interested in education. Josiah Wedgwood's first surviving letter to Bentley in 1762 refers to "an excellent piece upon female education, which I once had the pleasure of reading in MS." and which Bentley is urged to publish (Letters i.2). The treatise unfortunately appears not to have survived, so we cannot know what his views were, but it also seems certain that Bentley took a hand in the early education of Ann. As a child Ann stayed with Bentley at his Chelsea house: the longest period appears to have been Autumn 1771 to Spring 1772 when Ann was age seven, while preparations were put in hand for the Bath showrooms that Ann's father was hired to supervise (Letters ii.64); she also seems to have made later visits, others being during the three year period when Bentley lived at Turnham Green prior to his death in 1780. Ann may have first met William Radcliffe here; she would also have met several figures in the literary and scientific world who were friends of Bentley, such as Mrs. Hester Lynch Piozzi, Mrs. Barbauld, Joseph Banks, Sir William Hamilton, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and Erasmus Darwin; the latter two were to produce their own treatises on education during the 1790s.
Apart from Bentley's direct influence, Ann would also have become aware of contemporary educational practice in the example of Wedgwood's daughter (Susannah [1765-1817]), who was one year younger than Ann and who, upon marrying Dr. Robert Darwin in 1796, became the mother of Charles Darwin. Susannah stayed either with Bentley or at a nearby school in Chelsea called Blacklands between October, 1775, and April, 1778. She seems to have received the standard education for a girl. Wedgwood speaks in one letter of her improvements "as well in her general carriage, & behavior, as in her Music, Drawing &c." (ii:302-03). After she had been seen by the Edgeworths, Josiah reports his pleasure in their report, which praised "her obliging behaviour, & good disposition [which] give much pleasure to himself & Mrs. Edgeworth" (ii:302-3; ii:410). But the quality of female boarding schools was often extremely poor (e.g., Beddoes III, 12-78), and the two schools which Sukey attended seem to have been no exception: Sukey suffered a succession of maladies from her schooling, as other letters indicate (e.g., ii:148).
As a child, therefore, Ann had a vivid example placed before her of the ill-effects of female education, enforced by two powerful men at the forefront of radical capitalist development. It is perhaps no accident that her novels, notably Udolpho, were to emphasise control of property, and point to the role of female victims caught up in the social machinery it set in action. But there are additional reasons for looking upon education as a particular preoccupation of Radcliffe.
Female education when Radcliffe was growing up placed its primary focus on accomplishments. Many critics noted that these were merely utilitarian and subverted any genuine educational achievement. In a diary entry of 1784, for example, Mrs. Thrale (later Piozzi) writes that the female student's "Mother only loads her with Allurements, as a Rustic lays Bird Lime on Twigs, to decoy & catch the unwary Traveller" -- that is, a husband (i:590-91). Yet these same accomplishments constitute almost all that we first see of an Emily or an Ellena, to whom Valancourt or Vivaldi respond in textbook manner by falling immediately and irrevocably in love. Radcliffe's heroines, in fact, keep themselves occupied very much as contemporary guides recommended. Gisborne's Enquiry (1797) suggests improving reading (citing poets that Radcliffe particularly prized, such as Milton, Thomson, Gray, Mason, and Cowper), including poems that instill a sense of the sublime in nature; and he urges the performance of regular acts of charity to poor neighbors (223). Ellena, in The Italian, supports herself by selling fine work anonymously through the local convent, somewhat after the manner of Mrs. Cooper's shop in London, noticed by Priscilla Wakefield, which discreetly sold goods made by ladies in deprived circumstances (115).
But in themselves accomplishments are insufficient, as Radcliffe's novels imply. Numerous parents in the 1790s enabled their sons and daughters to ape the manners of the upper classes by attending boarding schools, but as Catherine Macaulay warned, such a polite exterior "is liable to change into a determined rudeness whenever motives of caprice or vanity intervene" (172) -- a change that occurs only too readily in the case of a Madame Cheron. The touchstone of Emily's virtue, as with Valancourt, is unswerving sensibility, whether to poetry or to nature. Radcliffe thus accepts the prototype, which so many boarding schools were designed to reproduce, in endowing her heroines with all the fashionable accomplishments; but she shows its limitations at the same time, a stance that ennobles her heroines but weakens their credibility as protagonists.
The physical ideal of womanhood that evolved toward the end of the eighteenth century was equally damaging. Increasing restrictions on body shape and clothing meant, in Lawrence Stone's account, "extreme slimness, a pale complexion and slow languid movements, all of which were deliberately inculcated in the most expensive boarding schools" (Family 445). Weakness of body and mind seems to have given women greater sexual attractiveness by increasing the scope for male control. As Fanny Burney's Mr. Lovel in Evelina says, "I have an insuperable aversion to strength, either of body or mind, in a female" (361). Radcliffe's heroines, who are capable of little physical exertion and often faint, seem close to this anorexic paradigm. The achievement of this ideal formed the "hidden curriculum" of their schooling. Female education in Radcliffe's period was not primarily about singing or embroidery, it was the enforcement of an anemic, passive, and compliant disposition, which was designed to prolong the childhood state of woman and to keep her constantly on the edge of adolescence. Thus, in Athlin and Dunbayne, Mary's indisposition makes her more attractive to Alleyn since it gives her "an interesting languor, more enchanting than the vivacity of blooming health" (110). In her later novels Radcliffe achieves similar effects through the emotional suffering of her heroines, which renders the countenance "more interesting" (Udolpho 161).
Besides the heroines' illnesses, their childlike qualities contribute directly to their attractiveness. This is stated most blatantly in Romance of the Forest when Theodore reflects that Adeline's charms are best described by the lines of a poem: "Oh! have you seen, bath'd in the morning dew, / The budding rose its infant bloom display; / When first its virgin tints unfold to view" (Forest 172). Wollstonecraft bitterly complains about this view, speaking of women "hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility" (149). Adeline is also said to be amiable, beautiful, and possessing a simplicity of manners (29); she has a love of virtue that makes it difficult for her to dissemble (160). She has just those virtues, in fact, that More advocates in her Strictures (1799) while complaining about women's passion for dress and ornament: "Modesty, simplicity, humility, economy, prudence, liberality, charity are almost inseparably, and not very remotely, connected with an habitual victory over personal vanity and a turn to personal expense" (i:336). Such a heroine is simultaneously strong and weak; she has the finest, best-honed moral sense yet is liable to faint at every critical moment (although the frequency of fainting fits steadily diminishes across Radcliffe's novels).(2) The source of this paradox emerges with the role of moral instruction in Radcliffe's fiction, that is, the use of the precept.
Radcliffe knew Shakespeare's work well: it might be argued that she took her cue on precepts from him. In Shakespeare's usage the term is deprecated on several occasions: our judgment of Polonius, for example, is not influenced in his favour by the string of precepts he impresses on Laertes, when his own behavior clearly springs from principles that differ from these (Hamlet, I.iii.58-80). In Udolpho the most important education received by the heroine is largely in the form of precepts; yet Radcliffe manages this ambiguously. Emily's father appears to subscribe to a model of female education similar to More's, although his precepts may not be intended at face value. Valancourt's elder brother is described "haranguing on the virtues of mildness and moderation" (117), which seems to caricature St. Aubert's advice to Emily. Madame Cheron frequently talks in precepts: "she failed not to inculcate the duties of humility and gratitude" (121). More disturbingly, however, Montoni also speaks in maxims, referring to "friends who assisted in rescuing you from the romantic illusions of sentiment . . . they are only the snares of childhood, and should be vanquished the moment you escape from the nursery" (196) -- an even more brutal version of St. Aubert's advice to Emily. Also, Cheron's precepts, based as she claims on "a little plain sense" (204) or "only common sense" (205), are shown actually to involve an acceptance of and complicity in the world of Montoni. Thus, common sense is invoked to disguise patriarchal tyranny. Not coincidently, then, while Montoni attempts to gain control over Emily's property, he talks to her in precepts: "you should learn and practice the virtues, which are indispensable to a woman -- sincerity, uniformity of conduct and obedience" (270).(3) Compliance and self-control are demanded by the preceptor in contrast to the method of the teacher, who emphasizes development in the pupil's own interests -- a role rarely found in Radcliffe's fiction (except perhaps Madame de Menon in A Sicilian Romance).
Therefore, precepts may be the primary agents of the patriarchal perspective, like Polonius's toward his children; preceptors invariably stand against sensibility. Feeling must be controlled by the patriarchal force of reason since feeling is an agent of discovery and would enable its possessor to challenge the preceptor's authority. Thus although Radcliffe seems on the one hand to applaud the precepts of a St. Aubert, on the other hand the tenor of her novels points not only to the inadequacy of such precepts, but also suggests that those who wield them are agents of repression or terror. In educating Emily, St. Aubert strives "to teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings, and to look, with cool examination, upon the disappointments he sometimes threw in her way" (Udolpho 5). But as Robert Kiely notes, "the incongruity between human behavior and moral principles which increases as the book progresses is strangely prefigured in Emily's philosophical father" (71), who fails to abide by his own precepts. While he speaks to Emily of controlling her feelings by reason or mind on the day of her mother's funeral (20-21) -- surely a highly premature injunction -- he is himself unable in 20 years to overcome his grief at the death of his sister, the poisoned Marchioness de Villerois (660). This prevents his letting Emily know that he even had such a sister, and his silence borders on the culpable, since her knowledge of this piece of family history might have alerted her to the danger of Montoni's guardianship. Whether Radcliffe expected readers to infer that is not clear; her plot lacks internal consistency. The surface structure of her fiction, with its notorious explanations of the supernatural, supports the principles of reason and a rational control over sensibility, and St. Aubert is rendered a mouthpiece for precepts from contemporary treatises on female education. Yet these same principles are repeatedly subverted by Radcliffe's focus on extreme states of feeling. By placing her heroines at the borders of perception and rationality, she enables their aroused sensibilities to acquire knowledge essential for survival.
Radcliffe's handling of sensibility is thus equivocal at a critical juncture of cultural change. More, for example, in her early poem to Mrs. Boscawan "Sensibility," written in 1782, gives her subject high praise: "Unprompted moral! sudden sense of right!" (i:34). In the Strictures of 1799, however, several pages warn of the dangers of sensibility, and she withdraws her earlier trust in its moral powers. Women of sensibility, she declares, "are apt to employ the wrong instrument to accomplish the right end. They employ the passions to do the work of the judgment" (i:380). Richard Edgeworth, who brought up his first son on principles of freedom and sensibility inspired by Rousseau, later moved away from sensibility. When considering female education with his coauthor Maria Edgeworth he advises, "we must cultivate the reasoning powers at the same time that we repress the enthusiasm of fine feeling" (i:380). Radcliffe occupies both sides of this debate. She accepts the high valuation placed on women's moral judgment in shaping society through the men they influence (a role on which More and others insisted). For example, Adeline, Emily, and Ellena decide to reject immediate marriage with their suitors at a critical moment, thus becoming moral guides to the men. At the same time, Radcliffe values the impulses of sensibility in ways that More and Edgeworth reprobated. Anticipating the Edgeworths, she makes St. Aubert warn Emily, in terms very similar to ones used by More or the Edgeworths, "do not indulge in the pride of fine feelings, the romantic error of amiable minds" (Udolpho 80). Yet such rational caution has serious limitations.
Contemporary education manuals emphasize keeping females occupied, hence the ceaseless cultivation of accomplishments such as embroidery, etching, drawing, or ribbon work. A woman should carefully avoid reverie, as More stresses: "she, who early imposes on herself a habit of strict attention to whatever she is engaged in, begins to wage early war with wandering thoughts, useless reveries, and that disqualifying train of busy, but unprofitable imaginations. . ." (i:336). But Radcliffe likely would have disagreed with these prescriptions. Although Emily, for instance, feels some guilt when she notices that she has dropped her needlework and fallen into a reverie or has lingered in communion with the falling dusk and the sounds of nature, this is when her sensibilities, thus activated, register the signals that contribute in the long run to her safety. For Emily -- and Ellena after her -- reverie provides a training in anticipatory reflection on her plight; it becomes soon enough a more urgent canvassing of what various critical events may mean, and the mental arguing through of the logic of different possible outcomes. To imagine a particular outcome is to gain some control over its actuality. Radcliffe heroines spend an increasing amount of time doing this, as the ratio of action to cogitation decreases over the course of her novels. Reverie strengthens, not weakens, the preparedness of the Radcliffe heroine.
Thus to debate the priority of reason or sensibility in Radcliffe is perhaps fallacious. The novels demonstrate the convergence of these faculties, that sensibility itself is a form of reason. "Despite its elaborate assertions of the need to dominate feeling by reason," as Spacks observes, "The Mysteries of Udolpho dramatizes the power of feeling to guide people accurately" (174). Hence, Radcliffe presents an insight that Coleridge or Wordsworth shortly offers more explicitly: for example, Coleridge claims in 1803 that his philosophy is "to make the Reason spread Light over our Feelings, to make our Feelings diffuse vital Warmth thro' our Reason" (Notebooks i:1623). Thus feelings, far from coming under the control of reason, increasingly guide the heroine's behavior. Conger, noting this, points to Ellena's sudden suspicion of Spalatro's food in The Italian (216): "Here is one of Radcliffe's most successful fictional demonstrations of the finely tuned sensibility in action, and one that presents that sensibility unequivocally as an instinctive survival skill" (135). Radcliffe also extends the heroine's clairvoyance to premonitory dreams, such as Adeline's, which lead her to her murdered father's manuscript (Forest 108-110), a device in which Radcliffe improves upon a predecessor's strategy (Clara Reeve's Old English Baron ).
Despite these significant accomplishments, however, the Radcliffe heroine oddly fails to mature either socially or psychologically. Although she survives her ordeals in order to marry and, presumably, bear children, she seems quite untouched by the succession of terrifying experiences she has had to endure. Udolpho, in the words of Macdonald (1989), is "a novel of education in which her heroine starts out with nothing to learn, a novel of maturation in which her heroine ends up as innocent, and as infantile, as she began" (203; also Kiely 78, Howells 9). This analysis applies to the heroines of all the novels. Radcliffe's vision, then, cannot encompass maturation.
At the same time, the Gothic heroine is a survivor, as Punter has suggested (11). Representative of some aspect of actual female experience, she survives amidst the social disruptions and gender politics of the late eighteenth century, but only at the cost of considerable psychological injury. She is the plaything of a Gothic machinery that involves removal of parents, extreme social isolation, prolonged incarcerations, and states of excessive terror, all of which symbolize a predicament that in reality is too threatening to be adequately comprehended.
The repetitive nature of Radcliffe's plots, not only within each novel but from one novel to the next, points to a version of the repetition compulsion which, as Freud pointed out, lies at the root of the uncanny (xvii:238). Endlessly replicating situations of terror, the novels point to a primary source in the experience of women of Radcliffe's generation, the repeated failure to master a trauma. The remarkable success of the Gothic genre she created shows that the representation of woman's predicament in her novels met an urgent cultural need, not just in the 1790s, but in the several decades and numerous imitators that followed.
Although critics have noted that Radcliffe's Gothic fictions occupy a borderland poised between natural and supernatural, the suspense this causes mainly serves plot machinery. It is their evocation of a more important borderland state that generates their true emotional power, that between childhood and adulthood. Punter's point that readers of Gothic fiction are free to indulge in regressive visions does not fully account for the experience of women writers such as Radcliffe and their first female readers.(4) Our regressive vision was their historic reality. In this sense, the infantilism imposed on women during the Romantic period perpetuates the psychodrama of early childhood, manifest in the plot of such a novel as The Italian as uncanny appearances and connections, meaningful coincidences (portrayed as providence), and the omnipotence of the prevailing powers of church and class. The reader's emotions, in short, reproduce the response to the oppressors that controlled women's lives.
Above all, the hallucinatory symptoms that occur in terror reflect as in a distorting mirror the ethical framework of 1790s patriarchy, with its extravagant and psychotic ethical demands on women. In this world, even the suspicion of a single ethical slip by a woman precipitates a fall into the abyss of ruin; a scale of retribution both disproportionate to the degree of guilt incurred and radically different from that under which men operated.(5) This primitive and savage ethical order imposed upon women suggests one source for the atavism of the Gothic novel, the fear of pollution springing from women's sexuality. As Paul Ricoeur comments on the fear of defilement: "When [man] first wished to express the order in the world, he began by expressing it in the language of retribution" (30). Working out this problematic, Gothic fiction partly desexualizes its heroine by pushing her back across the borders of adolescence, at the same time visiting upon her massive and not entirely explicable sufferings. These serve to increase her sensibilities, sometimes to hallucinatory intensity, but this supplies the heroine's strength as well as her liability. As Emily reflects, "when the mind has once begun to yield to the weakness of superstition, trifles impress it with the force of conviction" (Udolpho 634-35). Yet much of the behavior that preserves her at Udolpho derives from just such conviction based upon apparent trifles -- a few words, gestures, remote sounds.
As Coleridge put it in The Friend, imagination builds on slight evidence: "what small and remote resemblances, what mere hints of likeness from some real external object, especially if the shape be aided by colour, will suffice to make a vivid thought consubstantiate with the real object, and derive from it an outward perceptibility" (i:145-6). Coleridge goes on to relate this tendency to the appearance of apparitions and Luther's hallucination of the devil in particular. Hallucinatory episodes, as one modern authority remarks, tend to occur when "there is a high expectancy and a high level of ambiguity in available stimuli" (Horowitz). This ambiguity in stimulation certainly corresponds to the conditions in which Radcliffe's heroines often find themselves.
But the heroine's hallucinatory perceptions are not merely fantasy, even though they are often factually mistaken at the banal level of plot. A hallucination intimates repressed unconscious thoughts. As Freud remarks in speaking of "conversion hysteria," a hallucination reproduces in disguised form the actual experience when the repression occurred (xx:111). In this way Radcliffe disguises experiences that properly belong to childhood animism, in which no events are unexplained or random; every strange sight or sound holds a meaning with felt personal significance, even though this significance may be obscure or inexplicable. Just so does a Radcliffe heroine respond with hallucinatory intensity to the sights and sounds around her. Although the animism is later withdrawn in the bathos of explanation (Macdonald 199), the intimated meaning often remains in force and fails to dispel the atmosphere of threat or providence surrounding the heroine. For example, the improbable coincidences on which a Radcliffe plot depends are never adequately explained.(6) Such animism belongs normally only to childhood, but it is likely to be reawakened later in life during crises, such as separation or bereavement. Radcliffe seems to replay such a crisis in the plot of each of her novels, given that her heroines find themselves bereft of one or, usually, both parents, leaving the heroine exposed to vengeful or providential powers beyond her understanding or control. The plot, in other words, replays the regression to animism, in which nothing is meaningless. As Freud says, animism is the "most consistent and exhaustive" and "truly complete" explanation of the universe (xiii:77).
Another dimension of such animism is that the internalizing of the preceptor's voice, which psychoanalytically produces the superego or conscience, is incomplete. Thus the threatening behavior of a Montalt, a Montoni, or a Schedoni echoes the paternal language of the late eighteenth century toward Radcliffe's generation. These men are indeed the "monstrous and phantastic" parental images of which Melanie Klein speaks (250), but in Radcliffe they are not merely outgrowths of the inner aggressive impulses to which Klein attributes them; they correspond to the actual forces that shaped the lives of women and sought to confine them to a state of perpetual adolescence. The Gothic thus embodies the chronic paranoia imposed upon women, easy to ridicule or disregard, as the high culture of the period did only too readily, but representing a genuine persecution nonetheless.
Radcliffe's novels thereby reproduce the kind of persecution often seen in modern clinical reports of hallucinations, especially those of children (Cain 205, Pilowsky 10). At the same time, her heroine's stories invariably replicate the precipitants for hallucinations -- being orphaned, isolated, and set adrift in conditions of sensory deprivation (imprisoned in a castle or a convent); in addition, the novels follow a wish-fulfillment pattern, repeated across all the novels, of ultimate rescue by a hero of similar adolescent attributes, following successive failures at deliverance. As the problems faced by women outside the novel are insoluble, neither is development possible for the fictional heroines; they have virtually nothing to learn that would be of use, and they contribute nothing to the society to which they supposedly return after their persecutions cease (and it should be noted that the social structures that facilitated their persecutions remain intact, whether class, religion, or gender). Protagonists such as Ellena and Vivaldi are thus given only the most elementary and contingent of concerns, arising from their love and the various predicaments that follow from it. This is in striking contrast to a Montoni or Schedoni, whose concerns relate to a complex social system of rewards, privileges, and duties. While their concerns are ended only by their deaths, the concerns of Ellena and Vivaldi, by contrast, end with marriage. Hence, the aptness of the refrain that sounds through the last chapter of The Italian, "O! giorno felice!" signifying the story's end. With their elementary problems resolved, Ellena and Vivaldi's story has nothing to sustain it beyond a single day. This final freeze frame betrays the stasis in which the women Radcliffe portrays are trapped. Another century must elapse before such Gothic congealment would begin to loosen its regressive grip.
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1. Miller lists the number of publications devoted to the "character, duties and education of women" in Britain: in the decade beginning 1760 there were 16, in 1770, 23; 1780, 25: 1790, 41; 1800, 35; 1810, 13 (492-98). (back)
2. Someone faints on average after every 11 pages in Athlin (converting the page sizes of the Arno reprint to those of the Oxford editions), 18 pages in Sicilian, 40 pages in Forest, 48 pages in Udolpho, and 52 pages in The Italian. (back)
3. Anne Mellor's recent discussion of the sublime in Udolpho touches on this question: "Radcliffe's point is clear: the deepest terror aroused by the masculine sublime originates in the exercise of patriarchal authority within the home" (93). (back)
4. Punter refers to our pleasure in "being able to peer backwards through our own personal history, because all psychotic states are simply perpetuations of landscapes which we have all inhabited at some stage in our early infancy" (8). (back)
5. Even Radcliffe's preoccupation with the incarceration of her heroines seems less a mere fantasy in light of how often wives were forcibly and legally confined by their husbands (Stone, Road 164-69). (back)
6. Perhaps the most absurd examples are from Forest, where the fleeing La Mottes and Adeline end up at the Abbey of St. Clair, which just happens to be owned by Adeline's uncle, and when Peter and Adeline flee to his village in the Savoy, Adeline just happens to end up living with La Luc, the father of her lover Theodore; but all the novels depend in some degree on such coincidences. (back)
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Document prepared March 31st 2001