The gothic novel The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne is Ann Radcliffe's first work, published in 1789. The novel is a set in a powerful landscape which became familiar in her later work, with complex clan feuds and mysterious romantic intrigues played out against a backdrop of ruined medieval castles and rugged Scottish coastlines. Each of the characters can be defined by their passions: The present Earl of Athlin, Osbert, is driven by a passionate desire to avenge his father’s murder at the hand of Malcolm, the Baron of Dunbayne. His sister, Mary, is ever swooning and fainting in an attempt to resist her passion for Alleyn, a highlander not of noble birth (and therefore unworthy). Alleyn is likwise driven to heroic deeds of rescue because of his love for Mary. Even the villain, Baron Malcolm, is driven by his desire—first a desire to kill Osbert; it is later supplanted by his desire to possess Mary. Although the passions of its leading characters dominate the plot, the castles of the title are as central to the narrative, establishing an enduring Gothic trope.
Ann Radcliffe (9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823) was an English author, and a pioneer of the Gothic novel. Her style is romantic in its vivid descriptions of landscapes, and long travel scenes, yet the Gothic element is obvious through her use of the supernatural. It was her technique of explained Gothicism, the final revelation of inexplicable phenomena, that helped the Gothic novel achieve respectability in the 1790s. Ann Radcliffe was the most popular writer of her day and almost universally admired. Contemporary critics called her the mighty enchantress and the Shakespeare of romance-writers. Her popularity continued through the nineteenth century; for Keats, she was Mother Radcliffe, and for Scott, the first poetess of romantic fiction. Radcliffe created the novel of suspense by combining the Gothic romance of Walpole with the novel of sensibility, which focused on the proper, tender heroine and emphasized the love interest.
Monthly Review for December, 1789 - To those who are delighted with the marvellous, whom wonders, and wonders only, can charm, the present production will accord a considerable degree of amusement. The author of this performance appears to have written on the principle of Mr. Bayes, to elevate and surprise. By means of trap-doors, false panels, subterranean passages, etc. etc. this purpose is effected. This little work is to be commended for its moral; as also for the good sentiments and reflections which occasionally occur in it.