Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen : Romance to Realism




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation explores the literary relationship between Ann Radcliffe’s late eighteenth-century heroine-centered novels and Jane Austen’s early nineteenth-century Gothic parodies, Northanger Abbey and Emma. Within this framework, it argues that, contrary to scholarly consensus, significant and extensive continuities exist between Radcliffe’s romance and Jane Austen’s realism. This study demonstrates these affinities through close reading, analyzing each author’s treatment of narrative elements and formal techniques, and discussing ways in which each author responded to important aesthetic and philosophic concepts that emerged during the eighteenth century. More broadly, it examines how cultural discourses influenced the development of the novel as they generated debate over the purpose and value of literature linked to its efficacy in relaying knowledge. In more specific terms, it looks at how novelists participated in this debate as they contributed to shaping or contested literary and epistemological norms. Many contemporary fiction writers characterized literary realism as superior to romance based on the widely held assumption that the objective knowledge of reality was a feasible human goal. This dissertation argues that Austen in Northanger Abbey and Emma challenges these beliefs through her adaptation of Radcliffe’s work. Rather than opposition, Austen establishes a correspondence between realism and romance as she enlists and reworks her predecessor’s fiction to foreground the provisional nature of knowledge. Austen has been long admired for the accuracy that she brings to depicting her period’s cultural practices and customs, and, as a hallmark of her style, this quality has been credited with giving her realism a decidedly modern flavor. This project considers how the interplay between Austen’s and Radcliffe’s work enhances the modern dimension of Austen’s realism in finding that, because her Gothic parodies serve as a means to question rigid distinctions between subgenres of fiction and assertions of unitary truth, they express perspectives more in keeping with postenlightenment thought than with ideas that prevailed in Austen’s day.



Gothic fiction (Literary genre), Fiction, Social epistemology, Parodies, Radcliffe, Ann, -- 1764-1823, Austen, Jane, -- 1775-1817. -- Novels


©2020 Thomasina Hickmann. All rights reserved.