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Amelia Opie
Amelia Opie by John Opie.jpg
A 1798 portrait of Amelia Opie by her husband, John Opie
Amelia Alderson

12 November 1769
Norwich, England, United Kingdom
Died 2 December 1853(1853-12-02) (aged 84)
Norwich, England, United Kingdom
Resting place Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich
Occupation 18th century novelist and poet
Spouse(s) John Opie (1798–1807; his death)

Amelia Opie (née Alderson; 12 November 1769 – 2 December 1853), was an English author who published numerous novels in the Romantic period up to 1828. Opie was also a leading abolitionist in Norwich, England. Hers was the first of 187,000 names presented to the British Parliament on a petition from women to stop slavery.

Early life and influences

Amelia Alderson was born 12 November 1769. An only child, she was the daughter of James Alderson, a physician, and Amelia Briggs of Norwich. Her mother also brought her up to care for those who came from less privileged backgrounds. After her mother's death on 31 December 1784, she became her father's housekeeper and hostess, remaining very close to him until his death in 1807.

According to her biographer, Opie "was vivacious, attractive, interested in fine clothes, educated in genteel accomplishments, and had several admirers."(3) She was a cousin of the judge, Edward Hall Alderson, with whom she corresponded throughout her life, and was also a cousin of the artist, Henry Perronet Briggs. Alderson 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.


David d'Angers - Amelia Opie
Amelia Opie by David d'Angers (1836).

Opie spent her youth writing poetry and plays and organizing amateur theatricals. She wrote The Dangers of Coquetry when she was 18 years old.

Opie completed a novel in 1801 titled Father and Daughter. Characterized as showing genuine fancy and pathos, the novel is about misled virtue and family reconciliation. After it came out, Opie began to publish regularly. Her volume of Poems, published in 1802, went through six editions. 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.

More novels followed: Simple Tales (1806), Temper (1812), Tales of Real Life (1813), Valentine's Eve (1816), Tales of the Heart (1818), and Madeline (1822). The Warrior's Return and other poems was published in 1808.

Isaac Crewdson (Beaconite) writerSamuel Jackman Prescod - Barbadian JournalistWilliam Morgan from BirminghamWilliam Forster - Quaker leaderGeorge Stacey - Quaker leaderWilliam Forster - Anti-Slavery ambassadorJohn Burnet -Abolitionist SpeakerWilliam Knibb -Missionary to JamaicaJoseph Ketley from GuyanaGeorge Thompson - UK & US abolitionistJ. Harfield Tredgold - British South African (secretary)Josiah Forster - Quaker leaderSamuel Gurney - the Banker's BankerSir John Eardley-WilmotDr Stephen Lushington - MP and JudgeSir Thomas Fowell BuxtonJames Gillespie Birney - AmericanJohn BeaumontGeorge Bradburn - Massachusetts politicianGeorge William Alexander - Banker and TreasurerBenjamin Godwin - Baptist activistVice Admiral MoorsonWilliam TaylorWilliam TaylorJohn MorrisonGK PrinceJosiah ConderJoseph SoulJames Dean (abolitionist)John Keep - Ohio fund raiserJoseph EatonJoseph Sturge - Organiser from BirminghamJames WhitehorneJoseph MarriageGeorge BennettRichard AllenStafford AllenWilliam Leatham, bankerWilliam BeaumontSir Edward Baines - JournalistSamuel LucasFrancis August CoxAbraham BeaumontSamuel Fox, Nottingham grocerLouis Celeste LecesneJonathan BackhouseSamuel BowlyWilliam Dawes - Ohio fund raiserRobert Kaye Greville - BotanistJoseph Pease - reformer in India)W.T.BlairM.M. Isambert (sic)Mary Clarkson -Thomas Clarkson's daughter in lawWilliam TatumSaxe Bannister - PamphleteerRichard Davis Webb - IrishNathaniel Colver - Americannot knownJohn Cropper - Most generous LiverpudlianThomas ScalesWilliam JamesWilliam WilsonThomas SwanEdward Steane from CamberwellWilliam BrockEdward BaldwinJonathon MillerCapt. Charles Stuart from JamaicaSir John Jeremie - JudgeCharles Stovel - BaptistRichard Peek, ex-Sheriff of LondonJohn SturgeElon GalushaCyrus Pitt GrosvenorRev. Isaac BassHenry SterryPeter Clare -; sec. of Literary & Phil. Soc. ManchesterJ.H. JohnsonThomas PriceJoseph ReynoldsSamuel WheelerWilliam BoultbeeDaniel O'Connell - "The Liberator"William FairbankJohn WoodmarkWilliam Smeal from GlasgowJames Carlile - Irish Minister and educationalistRev. Dr. Thomas BinneyEdward Barrett - Freed slaveJohn Howard Hinton - Baptist ministerJohn Angell James - clergymanJoseph CooperDr. Richard Robert Madden - IrishThomas BulleyIsaac HodgsonEdward SmithSir John Bowring - diplomat and linguistJohn EllisC. Edwards Lester - American writerTapper Cadbury - Businessmannot knownThomas PinchesDavid Turnbull - Cuban linkEdward AdeyRichard BarrettJohn SteerHenry TuckettJames Mott - American on honeymoonRobert Forster (brother of William and Josiah)Richard RathboneJohn BirtWendell Phillips - AmericanJean-Baptiste Symphor Linstant de Pradine from HaitiHenry Stanton - AmericanProf William AdamMrs Elizabeth Tredgold - British South AfricanT.M. McDonnellMrs John BeaumontAnne Knight - FeministElizabeth Pease - SuffragistJacob Post - Religious writerAnne Isabella, Lady Byron - mathematician and estranged wifeAmelia Opie - Novelist and poetMrs Rawson - Sheffield campaignerThomas Clarkson's grandson Thomas ClarksonThomas MorganThomas Clarkson - main speakerGeorge Head Head - Banker from CarlisleWilliam AllenJohn ScobleHenry Beckford - emancipated slave and abolitionistUse your cursor to explore (or Click "i" to enlarge)The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon
1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention. Move cursor to identify delegates – the female delegates are on the right.

In 1825, 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 Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 where she was one of the few women included in the commemorative painting.

Personal life

In 1798, she married John Opie, a painter whom she had met at a party in Norwich, where Opie had come to carry out some commissions for Thomas Coke at Holkham Hall. They lived at 8 Berners Street, where Opie had moved in 1791. The couple spent nine years happily married, although her husband did not share her love of society, until his death in 1807. She divided her time between London and Norwich. She was a friend of writers Walter Scott, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Germaine de Staël. 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 have retained her vivacity to the last. She was buried at the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery, Norwich.

A somewhat sanitised biography of Opie, entitled A Life, by Cecilia Lucy Brightwell, was published in 1854.

Selected works

Novels and stories
  • Dangers of Coquetry (published anonymously) 1790
  • The Father and Daughter 1801
  • Adeline Mowbray 1804
  • Simple Tales 1806
  • Temper; or, Domestic Scenes 1812
  • First Chapter of Accidents 1813
  • Tales of Real Life 1813
  • Valentine's Eve 1816
  • New Tales 1818
  • Tales of the Heart 1820
  • The Only Child; or, Portia Bellendon (published anonymously) 1821
  • Madeline, A Tale 1822
  • Illustrations of Lying 1824
  • Tales of the Pemberton Family for Children 1825
  • The Last Voyage 1828
  • Detraction Displayed 1828
  • Miscellaneous Tales (12 Vols) 1845–1847
  • Memoir of John Opie 1809
  • Sketch of Mrs. Roberts 1814
Illustration from the poetry book: The Black Man's Lament, Or, How to Make Sugar by Amelia Opie (London, 1826)
  • Maid of Corinth 1801
  • Elegy to the Memory of the Duke of Bedford 1802
  • Poems 1802
  • Lines to General Kosciusko 1803
  • Song to Stella 1803
  • The Warrior's Return and other poems 1808
  • The Black Man's Lament 1826 (Wikisource text)
  • Lays for the Dead 1834
  • Recollections of Days in Holland 1840
  • Recollections of a Visit to Paris in 1802 1831–1832
  • Winter's Beautiful Rose, a song with words by Opie and music by Jane Bianchi dedicated to the Viscountesses Hampden
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