Ann Radcliffe was born Ann Ward in England on July 9, 1764. She was the only child of William Ward and Anne Oates Ward. In 1788 she married William Radcliffe. They had no children. Ann published The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne in 1789. Other works include A Sicilian Romance, The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and the Italian. She found much success with The Romance of the Forest and it established her as a Gothic novelist. Her later novels influenced other authors including Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, and Mary Wollstonecraft. She died on February 7, 1823 from respiratory problems.
Jane Austen's life is striking for the contrast between the great works she wrote in secret and the outward appearance of being quite dull and ordinary. Austen was born in the small English town of Steventon in Hampshire, and educated at home by her clergyman father. She was deeply devoted to her family. For a short time, the Austens lived in the resort city of Bath, but when her father died, they returned to Steventon, where Austen lived until her death at the age of 41. Austen was drawn to literature early, she began writing novels that satirized both the writers and the manners of the 1790's. Her sharp sense of humor and keen eye for the ridiculous in human behavior gave her works lasting appeal. She is at her best in such books as Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), in which she examines and often ridicules the behavior of small groups of middle-class characters. Austen relies heavily on conversations among her characters to reveal their personalities, and at times her novels read almost like plays. Several of them have, in fact, been made into films.
There has never been any doubt about Poe's enormous literary significance, but, with regard to his ultimate artistic merit, there has been considerable disagreement. To some he is little more than a successful charlatan, whose literary performances are only a virtuoso's display of stunning, but finally shallow, effects. Others, however, are struck by Poe's profound probing of the human psyche, his philosophical sophistication, and his revolutionary attitude toward literary language. No doubt both sides of this argument are in part true in their assessments. Poe's work is very uneven, sometimes reaching great literary heights, at other times striking the honest reader as meaningless, pathetic, or simply wrong-headed. This is not surprising, considering the personal turmoil that characterized so much of Poe's short life. Poe was extreme in his literary views and practices; balance and equilibrium were not literary values that he prized. Scorning the didactic element in poetry, Poe sought to separate beauty from morality. In his best poems, such as "The City in the Sea" (1836), he achieved an intensification of sound sufficient to threaten the common sense of the poetic line and release a buried, even a morbid, sense that would enchant the reader by the sonic pitch of the poem. Defining poetry as "the rhythmic creation of beauty," Poe not only sought the dream buried beneath the poetic vision---Coleridge had already done that---but also abandoned the moral rationale that gave the buried dream symbolic meaning. The dream, or nightmare, was itself the content of the verse. Some readers, however, such as T. S. Eliot, have found Poe's poetry extremely limited, both in its content and in its technique. While it is true that Poe was one of the few American poets to achieve international fame during the nineteenth century, critics point out that his influence on such literary movements as French symbolism and literary modernism was largely through the superb translations and criticisms of his writings by Baudelaire (see Vol. 2), Mallarme (see Vol. 2), and Valery (see Vol. 2). Poe's theory of the short story, as well as his own achievements in that genre, contributed substantially to the development of the modern short story, in Europe as well as in the United States. Poe himself regarded his talent for fiction writing as of less importance than his poetry and criticism. His public preferred his detective stories, such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), "The Mystery of Marie Roget" (1842--1843) and "The Gold Bug" (1843); and his analytic tales, such as "A Descent into the Maelstrom" (1841), "The Black Cat" (1843), and "The Premature Burial" (1844). His own preference, however, was for the works of the imagination, such as "Ligeia" (1838), "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), and "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842), tales of horror beyond that of the plausible kind found in the analytic stories. Just as with his poetry, however, readers have been strongly divided in their appreciation of the deeper worth of Poe's fiction. For many, they are at best merely an effective display in Gothicism, good horror stories, an enjoyable experience in vicarious terror, but nothing more. This was the view of Henry James, that other great nineteenth-century master of the ghost story, who claimed that "an enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection." But others have found in these carefully crafted pieces something far more profound, a way of seeing into our unconscious, that place where, for a while at least, terrifying conflicts coexist. As Poe so well put it himself in the preface to his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), "If in many of my productions terror has been the basis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany but of the soul."
The greatest author of supernatural fiction during the nineteenth century was undoubtedly J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu was born in Dublin and, as with so many other English popular fiction authors of his time, entered the genre of fiction by way of journalism, working on such publications as the Evening Mail and the Dublin University Magazine. Le Fanu came from a middle-class background; his family was of Huguenot descent. He graduated from Trinity College and married in 1844. After his wife died in 1858, until his own death, Le Fanu was known as a recluse, creating his ghost fiction late at night in bed. Probably he began writing ghost fiction in 1838; his earliest supernatural story is often cited as being either "The Ghost and the Bone-Setter" or the "Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh," both of which were later collected in the anthology entitled The Purcell Papers (1880). Writing most effectively in the short story form, Le Fanu's tales such as "Carmilla" (a vampire story that is thought possibly to have influenced Bram Stoker's Dracula) and the problematic "Green Tea" are considered by many literary scholars to be classics of the supernatural genre. His lengthy Gothic novels, such as Uncle Silas (1864), though less highly regarded than his shorter fiction, are nonetheless wonderfully atmospheric. Le Fanu's particular brand of literary horror tends toward the refined, subtle fright rather than the graphic sensationalism of Matthew Gregory Lewis. His work influenced other prominent horror fiction authors, including M. R. James.