Radcliffe, whose novel The Mysteries of Udolpho was affectionately lampooned by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, is known as a pioneer of gothic fiction and was one of the most popular writers of her time; Walter Scott called her a "mighty enchantress". Hardly anything is known about her personal life, however: the Edinburgh Review noted after her death in 1823 that she "never appeared in public, nor mingled in private society, but kept herself apart, like the sweet bird that sings its solitary notes, shrouded and unseen".
Rumours sprung up at the time that her terrifying writing had driven her into a lunatic asylum, and that she ate raw meat before bed to summon up the nightmares that would fuel her imagination. Christina Rossetti later abandoned a biography of the author because there was too little information available about her life.
Only two manuscripts in the world were thought to exist in her hand, one of those only a signature – until Greg Buzwell, a curator at the British Library, came across a letter to Radcliffe's mother-in-law believed to have been written by the author at the end of the 18th century, inside a volume of miscellaneous letters. (Read more.)