The Romance of the Forest (1791) heralded an enormous surge in the popularity of Gothic novels, in a decade that included Ann Radcliffe's later works, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Set in Roman Catholic Europe of violent passions and extreme oppression, the novel follows the fate of its heroine Adeline, who is mysteriously placed ...
The Romance of the Forest (1791) heralded an enormous surge in the popularity of Gothic novels, in a decade that included Ann Radcliffe's later works, The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Set in Roman Catholic Europe of violent passions and extreme oppression, the novel follows the fate of its heroine Adeline, who is mysteriously placed under the protection of a family fleeing Paris for debt. They take refuge in a ruined abbey in south-eastern France, where sinister relics of the past - a skeleton, a manuscript, and a rusty dagger - are discovered in concealed rooms. Adeline finds herself at the mercy of the abbey's proprietor, a libidinous Marquis whose attentions finally force her to contemplate escape to distant regions. Rich in allusions to aesthetic theory and to travel literature, The Romance of the Forest is also concerned with current philosophical debate and examines systems of thought central to the intellectual life of late eighteenth-century Europe.
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I read this book for my Gothic Literature class, and enjoyed it much more than I expected to, given its somewhat dry language and length. There was something rather hilarious and indeed enjoyable about the melodramatic aspects of the heroine's plight that kept this assignment from feeling like a chore. I myself wanted the answers to the mysteries of Adeline's parents, and of the unidentified victim whose remains are found in the Abbey. So the novel achieved its goal of drawing in the reader, at least in my case. It is an excellent example of the female gothic, with its emphasis on the explained supernatural and the intelligent and virtuous heroine who is beset and victimized by men.
I may explore Radcliffe's other works.
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