The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe
The Romance of the Forest

I do adore Radcliffe’s books, though I feel a bit guilty enjoying them knowing Jane Austen criticised them! They have very long descriptions and an older style of writing than more modern books, so often feel hard work to read, but the reward is the charming old-fashioned gothic-ness of it all and the delicious suspense from locked doors and dark corridors and secret passageways!

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

I do adore Radcliffe’s books, though I feel a bit guilty enjoying them knowing Jane Austen criticised them! They have very long descriptions and an older style of writing than more modern books, so often feel hard work to read, but the reward is the charming old-fashioned gothic-ness of it all and the delicious suspense from locked doors and dark corridors and secret passageways! 

Monsieur La Motte and his wife, with their two servants, are fleeing Paris due to La Motte facing imprisonment for debts. On their journey they seek shelter at a country house, but La Motte is locked in a room there and threatened with his life until he agrees to take away a lady also being held captive at the house. He agrees to this demand, and they all eventually leave the house safely. The lady explains that her name is Adeline and that her father had placed her in a convent when she was a child and is now angry at her for refusing to follow his orders to take her vows to become a nun, so he had removed her from the convent and deposited her at that country house and left her there with a group of men she didn’t know. Adeline and the La Mottes continue their journey together, travelling into a forest seeking shelter where they can hide themselves to avoid being discovered, Adeline fearful of discovery from her father and La Motte fearful of being arrested for debt. They find a ruined abbey and decide to stay there, although they are intimidated by the sinister appearance of the place. Ooooh, I love all the gothic dramatic descriptions when they venture into this ruined abbey, such as ‘La Motte…was interrupted by an uncommon noise which passed along the hall. They were all silent, it was the silence of terror…’, eeek, the silence of terror, it’s just so wonderful! And this one, ‘across the hall, the greater part of which was concealed in shadow, the feeble ray spread a tremulous gleam exhibiting the chasm in the roof, while many nameless objects were seen imperfectly through the dusk’, oooh, the fading light and the sinister-looking shadows, I love it! And this one, ‘she was interrupted by a return of the noise which had been lately heard. It sounded down the passage, at whose entrance they stood, and sunk gradually away. Every heart palpitated and they remained listening in silence’, oooh, it’s so delicious! What a fantastic scene, such a classic gothic thriller!! 

I realise I am racing through this book as the suspense and drama is just wonderfully relentless, and I can’t put it down! But that means that I am missing all the little details that I should be savouring.

The Marquis de Montalt and his regiment arrive at the ruined abbey, as the abbey belongs to the Marquis. After they have been there a while, one of the Marquis’ soldiers, Theodore, tries to warn Adeline that she is in danger but doesn’t manage to explain this danger fully before they are interrupted, and he is then sent away to join the rest of the Marquis’ regiment. Meanwhile, La Motte has discovered a skeleton in a closet and Adeline has discovered a manuscript written by someone who was held captive at the abbey, desperately pleading for help. La Motte’s servant, Peter, then warns Adeline that the Marquis wishes to marry her and was negotiating this with La Motte, however the Marquis already has a wife so he actually intends for Adeline to be his mistress, and La Motte is under the power of the Marquis so is unable to protect Adeline as he would wish. When trying to escape from the abbey to avoid the Marquis’ schemes, Adeline is caught and taken to the Marquis’ residence, from where she escapes with the help of Theodore, who injures the Marquis as he tries to defend Adeline, which results in him being arrested for wounding his superior officer. The Marquis then finds a seal in Adeline’s belongings, this is from her mother and the Marquis now realises that Adeline is actually his niece. Years before, the Marquis had killed his brother (Adeline’s father) in order to gain his fortune, and it was this man who had been held captive in the abbey and who left the desperate note pleading for help (which Adeline found) before he was killed, the Marquis then disposed of baby Adeline by giving her to a friend, instructing this friend to pretend that he (the friend) was her father and ordering him to put her in a convent, the Marquis then later decided (when Adeline was an adult) to have Adeline killed so told her ‘father’ (his friend) to remove her from the convent and take her to a country house far away and have her killed, but the men that the Marquis’ friend left her with were uncomfortable killing her, which is why they forced La Motte to take her away. The Marquis sends Adeline back to the ruined abbey and instructs La Motte to kill her, but La Motte can’t  face killing her so tells his servant Peter to take Adeline out of the country, and Peter takes her to his homeland, and she moves in with the La Luc family. This family then discovers that their son has been jailed and sentenced to death by the Marquis, and Adeline then realises that their son is actually Theodore. All the Marquis’ crimes are then revealed and Theodore is freed and marries Adeline. 

Phew, that really is all quite convoluted and involved and clever, however there are an amazing amount of convenient coincidences too! I think I’ll have to read this book again more calmly and slowly in order to get everything straight in my mind and also to take more note of the details, as the relentless drama and pace of the book was quite exhausting (though enormous fun!) and I realise I therefore failed to notice many of the wonderful little phrases and descriptions. There was certainly a huge amount of dramas and I needed to take a deep breath several times just to get through the dramas, it seemed like nearly every page had a potentially dramatic situation, one of my favourites being when Adeline found the manuscript and began reading it, only for her light to fail so she was left in suspense regarding the conclusion until the next day!! 

I also loved restraint and decorum of the time, with potentially racy things just hinted at rather than baldly stated. I presume readers of that time would have recognised the hints and been easily able to guess what the book was hinting at, but I often struggled to decipher it with the cagey language being used, eg, when the Marquis was proposing that Adeline become his mistress I had to read that part a couple of times in order to guess this was what he was proposing as it wasn’t explicitly stated, and even within Adeline’s private thoughts it’s just delicately hinted at. The travel aspects of the book were interesting too, with the thoughts of that time being so different to now, such as the presumptions about how other nationalities lived and how they are governed. And I love love love that this book was written in 1791, it just seems amazing to consider this when I am here reading it now, and it therefore feels such a privilege to read it. As I say, I am fully intending to re-read this book again and far more slowly (!), but I also have Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance and The Italian and The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne on my bookshelves waiting to be read (I had a bit of a buying splurge and wanted to ensure I had all her books so I can just immerse myself completely in that world and time!). However, I have discovered one book I hadn’t got (and I will now prioritise getting!) and this is Observations during a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland, which will obviously be very different from her novels but very interesting, I’m sure, I’d love to read her experiences of these places and see how they were in that time before they became more popular with tourists, and I love the thought that she was travelling in the footsteps (or carriage tracks!) of some of Jane Austen’s characters who regularly did these types of tours, such as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice travelling through Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle. And it’s been a while since I’ve read Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, so I am keen to re-read that too. But first I think I need a breather to recover from all the drama of this book!

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

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