Amelia Opie [née Alderson], novelist, poet, radical and philanthropist was born on 12 November 1769 in Norwich, the only child of James Alderson, physician and his wife, Amelia.
Following her mother’s death (31 December 1784), Amelia Alderson became her father’s housekeeper and hostess. She began her literary career by writing classical and Gothic drama and a tragedy entitled ‘Adelaide’ which was staged in Norwich with herself in the title role and the proprietor’s sisters in other roles.
Amelia’s political interests were stimulated by the French Revolution and her father’s interest in the Norwich reform movement. In September 1794, Amelia contributed fifteen poems to The Cabinet, a periodical began by Norwich reformers.
Amelia associated with the controversial literary and political Godwin Circle, which included writers such as Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and had friends such as Sarah Siddons, Anna Letitia Barbauld, and French Girondin refugees.
John Opie (1761-1807) was a self-taught divorced artist. After a brief courtship, he and Amelia were married at Marylebone church, London, on 8 May 1798, and then lived at 8 Berners Street. To support their household, John gave up the prestigious historical and mythological painting for the more lucrative portraiture. He encouraged his wife’s writing, and her literary career developed rapidly with Amelia publishing many poems, fictions and songs
In August 1802 the Opies joined other British tourists flocking to Paris during the brief peace of Amiens. They viewed the Louvre and sites of revolutionary history.
After John Opie’s unexpected death on 9 April 1807, Amelia returned to her father’s home in Norwich where she continued to write and she renewed her friendship with the Gurneys, a prominent Norwich Quaker family. She was admitted to the Society of Friends in August 1825, her father died two months later, and he was buried in the Friends’ cemetery, Gildencroft, Norwich.
Opie’s philanthropic work included visiting workhouses, hospitals, prisons, and the poor; promoted a refuge for reformed prostitutes; supported the Norwich branches of the Bible Society and the Anti-Slavery Society; and in 1840 represented Norwich at the national anti-slavery convention.
Opie believed that joining the Friends meant abandoning fiction, though she did revise earlier works and contributed poems and prose pieces to literary annuals. In 1828 she published Detraction Displayed and in 1834 Lays for the Dead , her last collection of poems.
She died in Norwich at midnight on 2 December 1853, and was buried in her father’s grave.
Find out more: You can see original documents about Amelia Opie at the Norfolk Record Office here and sculpture in Norwich here
Created in 2014 by UEA Film, Media and Television students George Constantine, Jay Lawrence, Tom Watson and Dwayne Rapley.