Roch(e), Regina Maria (c.1764–1845), writer, was born in Waterford, the daughter of Capt. Blundell Dalton (or D'Alton), and was brought up in Dublin; nothing is known of her mother. She began writing in her teens, encouraged by her father, and her first two novels, The vicar of Lansdowne, or, Country quarters (1789) and The maid of the hamlet (1793), were published under her maiden name, and received a lukewarm reception from the critics. It was her third novel, The children of the abbey (1796), that established her, along with Ann Radcliffe and Isabella Kelly (later Mrs Hedgeland), as one of the most popular novelists of the 1790s; it became one of the most popular works of fiction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, running to eleven editions by 1832, and remained in print until 1882. She wrote at least eleven other novels. Although not approaching the popularity of The children of the abbey, her fourth novel, Clermont (1798), was influential enough to be one of the ‘horrid novels’ parodied in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818). By 1820 the romantic gothic form was out of fashion, and Roche wrote a series of ‘regional’ novels focusing on Ireland and Irish issues, the most significant of which was The tradition of the castle (1824), which incorporated elements both of the ‘national tale’ as practised by Lady Morgan (qv) and Enlightenment didacticism as seen in the fiction of Maria Edgeworth (qv). Her last novel, Contrast, was published in 1828.
In spite of her popularity in the 1790s and the enduring appeal of her most famous work, little is known about her life. In May 1792 she married Ambrose Roche or Roch, from Waterford, and it appears that money worries were constant in their lives after both of them were swindled out of their Irish inheritances by a corrupt lawyer in the period 1802–4. The case was finally taken to chancery in 1820 and dragged on for ten years. Although it was eventually decided in favour of the Roches, the legal costs crippled them financially. Another dispute with Richard Martin (qv), over £500 rent due to the Roches, was also a source of financial worry. If Roche's letters are to be credited, Martin extended little of his famous generosity or compassion to her. Her husband was paralysed by a stroke in December 1825 and declared bankrupt for the second time in 1827. These events undoubtedly contributed to the bouts of depression from which she suffered throughout her life. Her husband died in 1829; they had no children. She lived in London, surviving on a £20 annual donation from the Royal Literary Fund, and returned to live in Waterford in October 1831 when the funding ceased. Childless, she died, virtually destitute, in the Mall, Waterford, on 17 March 1845.
Although never popular with the critics, her best-known novels struck a chord with the reading public; practically all of her stories were continuously in print until the mid 1830s, and were translated into Spanish, German, and French. She is often dismissed as a mere imitator of the gothic romances of Ann Radcliffe, whose The mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797) were classics of the form, comprising exotic locations, vivid descriptions of landscape (usually gleaned from paintings rather than life), overwrought sensibility, and pseudo-supernatural occurrences which turn out eventually to have a rational explanation. Although her novels, like those of many contemporaries, have been described as ‘sentimentally lurid’ (Blakey, 57), some critics see a greater concern with the real world in Roche's work. Carol Ann Howells describes her writing as ‘Radcliffean gothic domesticated’, containing all the ‘frisson of terror’, but ‘set reassuringly in the familiar context of late eighteenth-century polite society’, and detects more of a concern for social issues and human relationships than is to be found in the more fanciful Radcliffe (Howells, 83). The contemporary or near-contemporary settings employed by Roche identify her very much as a pioneer of a form of ‘Irish gothic’ later practised by writers such as Charles Maturin (qv), Sheridan Le Fanu (qv), and Bram Stoker (qv). In relation to her Irish-centred fiction, which dominated the last nine years of her writing career, Natalie Schroeder has identified Lady Morgan and Maria Edgeworth as ‘competing influences’ on her, and suggests that Roche's stock device of lost or denied inheritances and birthrights – echoing her own real-life experience – had, in the Ireland of the 1820s, ‘acquired a grim reality’ (Schroeder, 120, 122).