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Impact of the Novel

Northanger Abbey

I have already mentioned Jane Austen’s parody of the Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey, which was actually one of Austen’s early novels though it was not published until 1818. Readers have loved the re-working of Radcliffe’s fiction, and have been just as captivated by Catherine Morland (despite her artistic inability and ordinariness) as they are by Emily St. Aubert. A contemporary of Radcliffe, Austen’s novel may not be the critique of The Mysteries of Udolpho that we think it is: after all, Henry Tilney himself comments, that the “person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with pleasure” (Austen, 77). Such praise from an author renowned for her sharp wit and satire is praise indeed.

The Minerva Press

In the Gothic literature of her day, Radcliffe had many imitators. The novels that Isabella Thorpe recommends to Catherine as “horrid” (Austen, 25) are just such imitations of Radcliffe; among the titles are the “Castle of Wolfenbach, … Mysterious Warnings, [and] Necromancer of the Black Forest,” (Austen, 25) which were all published by the Minerva Press – “one of the principle publishers of popular novels for women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.[1]” In Northanger Abbey, John Thorpe recommends Lewis’s The Monk to Catherine (Austen, 32), which, as we have seen, describes more the physicality of horror than the refined terror of the female gothic.

The Brontë Sisters

Though they belong to a later period, the novels of Charlotte and Emily Brontë share the influence of Radcliffe’s novels. For example, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre contains themes of female independence, Gothic castles, and a kind of rationalized or ‘natural’ supernatural (Milbank, 159). Perhaps even more than her sister, Emily Brontë uses the Gothic mode in Wuthering Heights.[2] In Heathcliff, we see the hero-villain that is attractive, yet overpowering (like Montoni), while we see the haunted, mysterious building in Wuthering Heights itself.[3] While I will not get into much detail here, it is worth noting the influence that Radcliffe had, especially on women writers of her own, and succeeding periods.

[1] Explanatory Notes to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, p. 363

[2] Miles, Robert. “The Gothic.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Ed. David Scott Kastan. © 2005 Oxford University Press. The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature: (e-reference edition).

[3] Ibid.