Friday, July 29, 2011
Book Review of Romance in the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
Author Name: Ann Radcliffe
Type of book: Young adult to Adult, historical, gothic
Year it was published: 1791
Set in a 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. (From goodreads.com)
The characters are caricatures and are flat. Evil characters are completely evil with no rhyme or reason, while good characters are good. (Only exception is La Motte who changes from bad to good.) Theodore, unlike hero from Mysteries of Udolpho, does help with rescuing the woman, and Adeline, unlike Emily from Mysteries of Udolpho, seems to be in complete excess of emotion. Adeline isn't easy to relate to and she seems to give too much power to the people around her. She is gutsy when it comes to escaping La Motte and not marrying Marquise de Montalt, I believe.
I'm not sure of the theme of this novel. Really, I do have a difficult time figuring out the ultimate message that the novel was written.
The beginning of the novel becomes interesting, with La Motte and his wife leaving the city, and him being captured and told to take the girl with him and never return, which is how we meet Adeline. She gives some pieces of information to Madame la Motte about her predicament and denounces the father that put her in a convent. Some things, and some family secrets are hard to suspend, even if its a Gothic piece of literature. Its not explained at all about the mysterious cave that La Motte uses, or why he disappears and where he goes. Sometimes the author jumps from place to place, and from point of view to point of view. (That is one chapter is Adeline's, and midway through the book we are transported to Clara and her father.)
Ann's fiction is characterized by seemingly supernatural events being explained through reason. Throughout her work traditional morals are asserted, women’s rights are advocated for, and reason prevails.
Ann published 6 novels in all. These are (listed alphabetically) The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, Gaston de Blondeville, The Italian, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest and A Sicilian Romance. She also published a book of poetry, but her talent for prose far exceeded her poetic ability.
Radcliffe is considered to be the founder of Gothic literature. While there were others that preceded her, Radcliffe was the one that legitimized Gothic literature. Sir Walter Scott called her the 'founder of a class or school‘ (Facer). Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like where Gothic literature was headed, and her final novel, The Italian, was written in response to Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. It is assumed that this frustration is what caused Radcliffe to cease writing.
Ann Radcliffe had a profound influence on many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott also interspersed his work with poems, as did Radcliffe. Indeed, "Scott himself said that her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two dimensional, the plots far fetched and improbably, with 'elaboration of means and futility of result.'" (From wikipedia.)
Before reading this book, I read The Mysteries of Udolpho which caused me to set my bar too high for this book. Although I liked the male hero in there, Theodore, I wasn't a big fan of the heroine. Maybe its because the book is short, but the potential of Mysteries of Udolpho is lost in this twenty-six chapter story. The plot itself is interesting, and there are a few unexpected revelations, but the characters and the language, including poetry are not interesting unfortunately. I've also noticed a certain anti-French dislike in this book. (Adeline falls in love with English words and works such as Shakespeare and Milton...) but it ignores the French works such as King Arthur stories and myths. (I know its because the author is British and doesn't seem to be interested in French classics, or else has a low regard for French things.) However, there are some glimmers of what will ultimately be Mysteries of Udolpho, (one can even see the characters of Clara and her father La Luc becoming Emily and St. Aubert in Mysteries of Udolpho.)
2 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)