Alderson [Opie], Amelia

Amelia Alderson (1769-1853) was the daughter of the Dissenting Norwich physician James Alderson. Her mother died in 1784 and, as the only child, became caretaker and hostess of the Alderson home. By the time she was 22, she had composed a play (performed in Norwich) and the 2-vol. work, The Dangers of Coquetry. Alderson soon found herself enmeshed in the radical political scene among the Norwich Dissenters, many of whom belonged to the Octagon Chapel (mostly Unitarian) where the Aldersons attended. Her political interests spread to London where she met many fellow radicals, including Godwin, Holcroft, Wollstonecraft and others within and without the Godwin circle, including John Thelwall and Horne Tooke. She contributed to the radical Norwich periodical, The Cabinet (1794-95). She married the artist John Opie (1761-1807) in May 1798 (he was previously divorced), living at that time in Berners Street, London. They had no children, and both devoted themselves to their work, his as a portrait painter and she as a novelist and poet. Five poems by Mrs. Opie appeared in Southey's Annual Anthology (1799-1800), followed by her first novel, The Father and Daughter (1801) and a volume of poems, all of which provided her with considerable acclaim as a significant writer. More acclaim arrived with the publication of her important novel, Adeline Mowbray, or The Mother and Daughter (3 vols, 1804), in which she appeared to distance herself from her earlier inclinations toward various Godwinian positions on social morality and relationships between the sexes, whether before or after marriage or outside of marriage altogether.  Later works of fiction include Simple Tales, (4 vols, 1806), Tales of Real Life (1813), New Tales (1818), Tales of the Heart (1820), and Madeline: a Tale (1822). Her husband died in 1807, but she continued writing assiduously and caring for her father, who died in 1825. Like Elizabeth Heyrick, Opie joined the Society of Friends and discontinued writing the kind of fiction that had established her reputation. She nevertheless continued to write, but as a Quaker she turned to moral and didactic fiction (much like Elizabeth Coleman and Mary Hays would do) publishing through Harvey and Darton such works as The Negro Boy's Tale (1824), Tales of the Pemberton Family (1825), The Black Man's Lament (1826), and Detraction Displayed (1828), the latter a work resembling the popular conduct literature of its day (much like Elizabeth Hays Lanfear's Letters to Young Ladies). Her final book was Lays for the Dead (1834). She traveled widely in her later years, wrote letters, and maintained an active social life, joining her contemporaries Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen as one of the leading woman writers of the first half of the 19th century.