Amelia Opie, née Alderson (12 November 1769– 2 December 1853), was an English author who published numerous novels in the Romantic Period of the early 19th century, through 1828. Opie was also a leading abolitionist in Norwich, England.
Life and work
Amelia Alderson was the daughter of James Alderson, a physician, and Amelia Briggs of Norwich, England. She was a cousin of notable judge Edward Hall Alderson, with whom she corresponded throughout her life, and also a cousin of notable artist Henry Perronet Briggs.
Miss Alderson had inherited radical principles and was an ardent admirer of John Horne Tooke. She was close to activists John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Marriage and family
In 1798 Alderson married John Opie, the painter. The nine years of her married life before her husband’s death were happy, although her husband did not share her love of society. With his encouragement, in 1801 she completed a novel entitled Father and Daughter, which showed genuine fancy and pathos.
Amelia Opie published regularly after that. Her volume of Poems, published in 1802 went through six editions, and was followed by The Warrior’s Return and other poems in 1808. More novels followed: Adeline Mowbray (1804), Simple Tales (1806), Temper (1812), Tales of Real Life (1813), Valentine’s Eve (1816), Tales of the Heart (1818), and Madeline (1822).
Opie wrote The dangers of Coquetry at age 18. Her novel Father and Daughter (1801) is about misled virtue and family reconciliation. Encouraged by her husband to continue writing, she published Adeline Mowbray (1804), an exploration of women’s education, marriage, and abolition of slavery. The novel is noted in particular for engaging the history of Opie’s former friend Mary Wollstonecraft, whose relationship with the American Gilbert Imlay outside marriage, and later marriage to the philosopher William Godwin caused some scandal. Godwin had previously argued against marriage as an institution by which women were owned as property, but when Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they married despite his prior principles. In the novel, Adeline early on becomes involved with a philosopher who takes a principled stand against marriage, only to be convinced to marry a West Indian Landowner against her better judgment. The novel also engages abolitionist sentiment, in the story of a mixed-race woman and her family whom Adeline saves from poverty at some expense to herself.
Amelia Opie divided her time between London and Norwich. She was a friend of writers Sir Walter Scott, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Madame de Stael.
In 1825, following the death of her father who objected, she joined the Society of Friends through the influence of Joseph John Gurney and his sisters who were longtime friends and neighbors in Norwich. The rest of her life was spent mostly in travelling and working at charity, though she published an anti-slavery poem, The Black Man’s Lament in 1826 and a volume of devotional poems, Lays for the Dead in 1834. Opie worked with Anna Gurney to create a Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in Norwich. Opie went to World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 where she one of the few women who was included in the commemorative painting.
Even late in life, Opie maintained connections with writers, for instance receiving George Borrow as a guest. After a visit to Cromer, a seaside resort on the North Norfolk coast, she caught a chill and retired to her bedroom. A year later on 2 December 1853, she died at Norwich and was said to retain her vivacity to the last. She was buried at the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich.
An somewhat sanitized biography of her, A Life, by Miss C.L. Brightwell, was published in 1854.
Novels and Stories
Dangers of Coquetry. (published anonymously) 1790
The Father and Daughter. 1801
Adeline Mowbray. 1804
Simple Tales. 1806
First Chapter of Accidents. 1813
Tales of Real Life. 1813
Valentine’s Eve. 1816
New Tales. 1818
Tales of the Heart. 1820
Illustrations of Lying. 1824
Tales of the Pemberton Family for Children. 1825
The Last Voyage. 1828
Detraction Displayed. 1828
Miscellaneous Tales. (12 Vols.) 1845-7
Memoir of John Opie. 1809
Sketch of Mrs. Roberts. 1814
Maid of Corinth. 1801
Elegy to the Memory of the Duke of Bedford. 1802
Lines to General Kosciusko. 1803
Song to Stella. 1803
The Warrior’s Return and other poems. 1808
The Black Man’s Lament. 1826
Lays for the Dead. 1834
Recollections of Days in Holland. 1840
Recollections of a Visit to Paris in 1802. 1831-1832.