The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe
The Romance of the Forest

I do like 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 like 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 La Motte family have had to flee Paris due to the father facing imprisonment for debts, on their journey they seek shelter at a country house where La Motte is threatened with his life unless he takes away a girl being held captive there. She is called Adeline and her father was angry at her for refusing to follow his orders to stay living with the nuns and take the veil so he deposited her at this house and left her there with a group of strange men. Adeline and the La Motte family continue their journey together, finding a ruined abbey to shelter in. 

I love all the gothic dramatic descriptions in this book, ‘La Motte pointed to the broken roof and was proceeding, when he was interrupted by an uncommon noise which passed along the hall. They were all silent – it was the silence of terror… They came to a narrow passage, and Peter’s sticks (of light) being nearly exhausted, they waited here while he went in search of more. The almost expiring light flashed faintly upon the walls of the passage showing the recess more horrible. 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…. 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, how delicious, what a fantastic scene, such a classic gothic thriller!! I also loved it when Adeline found a manuscript and began reading it, only for her light to fail so she was left in suspense till the next day!! 

However, the amount of dramas did end up becoming a little exhausting to read after a while, as the book does emphasise the overly dramatic with nearly every page having a potentially dramatic situation which often leads to nothing that dramatic.

These books are also interesting with the restraint and decorum of the time, as potentially racy things are just hinted at rather than stated, and I presume readers of that time would have easily guessed what the book was hinting at. For example, I had to read this part a couple of times in order to guess that the Marquis’ first proposal was that she be his mistress and the second proposal was that she be his wife, but this proposal to be his mistress isn’t explicitly stated and I didn’t catch this on my first reading, but I love how quaint it is that this isn’t even stated in her private thoughts, just delicately hinted at. 

The travel is interesting too, as it’s from a different time, with the presumptions about how other nationalities live and are governed. 

Phew, the ending is quite convoluted and very coincidental. With a deep breath (!), Adeline was actually the daughter of the Marquis’ brother, the Marquis killed his brother to gain his fortune and it was his brother who was jailed in the abbey and left the desperate note pleading for help that Adeline found. The Marquis disposed of baby Adeline by giving her to a friend telling him he had to say he was her father and that he had to put her in a nunnery. The Marquis then decided to have Adeline killed so told her ‘father’ to remove her from the nunnery and take her to a country house far away and kill her, ‘father’ told his friends to kill her after depositing her with them but they were uncomfortable doing so and gave her to La Motte. The Marquis then met Adeline at the abbey and wanted to seduce her so stole her away, he then found a seal from her mother in her belongings so realised she was actually his niece, he then took her back to the abbey and told La Motte to kill her otherwise he would report La Motte for robbing him in the forest. La Motte couldn’t face killing her so told his servant Peter to take her out of the country, Peter took her to his homeland and she moved in with La Luc’s family, they discovered their son had been jailed and sentenced to death by the Marquis, and their son was actually Theodore. All the Marquis’ crimes come out, Theodore is freed and marries Adeline. 

I think I preferred her book The Mysteries of Udolpho more than this one, perhaps because the drama in Udolpho was much more in the style of secret doors in a castle and dark corners and hidden rooms etc, whereas this is more about dramas to Adeline. But I do love these historical books, this one was written in 1791 which seems amazing to consider when I am reading it now, and it feels important to read them.

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

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