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A 1798 portrait of Amelia Opie by her husband, John Opie
12 November 1769
Norwich, United Kingdom
|Died||2 December 1853|
Norwich, United Kingdom
|Resting place||Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich|
|Occupation||18th century novelist and poet|
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. When 187,000 names were presented to the British Parliament as a petition from women to stop slavery, Amelia Opie's name was the first.
She was born Amelia Alderson, the daughter of James Alderson, a physician, and Amelia Briggs of Norwich, England. Amelia Alderson was the only child of her parent. Her mother also brought her up to care for those who came from less privileged backgrounds. After her mothers death on 31st December 1784, she became her father's housekeeper and hostess. According to her biographer, Amelia "was vivacious, attractive, interested in fine clothes, educated in genteel accomplishments, and had several admirers". (3) She was a cousin of the notable judge Edward Hall Alderson, with whom she corresponded throughout her life, and also a cousin of the notable artist Henry Perronet Briggs.
In 1798, Alderson married John Opie, a painter. The couple spent nine years in married happiness, although her husband did not share her love of society. With her husband's encouragement, Amelia completed a novel in 1801 titled Father and Daughter, which showed genuine fancy and pathos.
Amelia spent her youth writing poetry and plays and organizing amateur theatricals. After her novel Father and Daughter was published in 1801, Amelia Opie began to publish regularly. 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 when she was only 18 years old. 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 the abolition of slavery. This novel in particular is noted for engaging the history of Opie's former friend Mary Wollstonecraft, whose relationship with the American Gilbert Imlay outside of marriage caused some scandal, as did her later marriage to the philosopher William Godwin. 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 beliefs. In the novel, Adeline becomes involved with a philosopher early on, who takes a firm stand against marriage, only to be convinced to marry a West Indian landowner against her better judgement. 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.
In 1825, Amelia Opie joined the Society of Friends, due to the influence of Joseph John Gurney and his sisters, who were long-time friends and neighbours in Norwich, and despite the objections made by her recently deceased father. The rest of her life was spent mostly in travel and working with charities. In the meantime, however, she published an anti-slavery poem titled, 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. This anti-slavery society organised a petition of 187,000 names that was presented to parliament. The first two names on the petition were Amelia Opie and Priscilla Buxton.
Opie went to the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 where she was one of the few women included in the commemorative painting.
Even late in her 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 have retained her vivacity to the last. She was buried at the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich.
A somewhat sanitised biography of Amelia Opie, titled A Life, by Miss C.L. Brightwell, was published in 1854.
Novels and Stories