Friday, July 9, 2010

"A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and of vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness."

So wrote Ann Ward Radcliffe, who was born on the 9th of July, in 1764. In time she would write gothic novels. She was, I come to discover, a pioneer in the genre. She was 25 in 1789, the best and worst of times, when she published The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. The books she wrote thereafter had glorious titles: A Sicilian Romance. The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Somehow it cheers me to imagine women turning away from the news of violence & bloodshed in Paris and upstart Americans electing General Washington as their first President to lose themselves in Mrs. Radcliffe's tales of innocent maidens and sinister goings on, wondrously imaginary. Far, far, far away from the mutinous struggles going on above & below decks on the HMS Bounty, far, far away from Americans' earnest, furious, fearful arguments over a list of civil Rights to be added to the U.S. Constitution, full-skirted ladies were turning pages, reading Mrs. Radcliffe's novels by the light of cool grey daylight streaming into English parlors and bedchambers.

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