On The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
June 14, 2000 Question #15
Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) lived most of her childhood life with various family members instead of with her parents. This matches the character of Adeline in her book, who was taken away from her father. Ann was brought up in a radical environment and was very well educated. She married William Radcliffe, a man from the same class as she, who was a respected journalist, intelligent, and also wrote for a living. She is reported to have had a nervous breakdown, which made her very reclusive. In the latter years of her life she stopped publishing altogether and was reported either mad or dead. In her novel she makes Adeline repeat a line which seems to resonate deeply about how terrible it is to be "betrayed by those [you] depend upon." Her books are all about repressed existence. Radcliffe also presents a critique of the ancien régime
Jane Austen's (1775-1817) life is reflected in all her novels. The parallels between what we know of her life and the stories and characters in Sense and Sensibility are especially close. Austen's father died, so her brothers had to chip in and support her mother and her sister. Austen and her two sisters came to live on their wealthy brother's estate in a cottage. All this reflects the death of Mr Dashwood and how the Dashwood sisters and mother come to live on a wealthy cousin's estate. The mind of Elinor and the passion of Marianne lived in Austen. However, Jane's sister Cassandra resembled Elinor more and Marianne was like Jane, both after romance and love. Surprisingly she never got married and it was thought that she must have experienced a harsh love that left her sad. This sadness is found in her Persuasion. Her novels are all about romance and passion and love, as well as mistreatment by males and social classes and the terrible power of money. Her novels are set in her own time and the criticism of social and economic vulnerability of women can be applied to our world today.
Both novels were written during the period of the French Revolution, depend upon flashback and have as their central subject, passionate love. The Romance of the Forest and Sense and Sensibility dramatize the desire for love and sex between people who are driven by secrets. In Austen's novel, Willoughby's secret was that he had gotten a girl pregnant, ran away from her and had no money. Marianne has this passion for him and her repression of it after he abandons her drives her into a deep melancholy. This kind of secret is also seen in Radcliffe's novel in Pierre de la Motte, and his son Louis, who both have a secret desire for Adeline. The man to whom La Motte owes money and is all powerful in the book, the Marquis tries to force Adeline to sleep with him. This kind of love is seen today where people are driven by love to do things that we normally wouldn't have done if we were thinking clearly. Once love and the desires for sex fill a person's mind they soon are led to sadness if it is not fulfilled. Secrets also play an important role in our everyday lives. Everyone has some kind of secret and if hidden too long and then suddenly brought out can cause a disaster to those around us.
The Romance of the Forest is a gothic novel about Pierre de la Motte and his family getting kicked out of Paris and having to find refuge in an abbey. Adeline, the heroine, gets placed with them and finds out the truth about her past and her father. In Sense and Sensibility, a more realistic novel, the Dashwood girls lose their father and are forced to move to a small cottage. One sister loses a man who betrays her and marries another girl for money, while the other is betrayed also by love, fortune and money.
Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen dramatize passionate behavior in the characters of Pierre de la Motte and Marianne. Driven by his passions, la Motte finds himself in situations where he is confused and doesn't know what to do. Marianne is idealistic and is constantly releasing her passions instead of controlling herself. Both characters don't get the person they are passionate for, but lose them because they didn't think realistically, and because they let their desires control them. Marianne loses Willoughby to the rich woman with the large dowry. La Motte loses Adeline to his servant and realizes that she could never share the same feelings he had towards her. This passion is what causes both characters to at first act childish, then to be conflicted, then become ill or deeply guilty and finally to learn they must move on.
Ann Radcliffe starts off by giving a really good description of la Motte by saying:
He was a man whose passions often overcame his reason ... silenced his conscience; but though the image of virtue, which Nature had impressed upon his heart, was sometimes obscured by the passing influence of vice .... would have been a good man; as it was, he was always weak .... vicious member of society: yet his mind was active, and his imagination vivid, which cooperating with the force of passion, often dazzled his judgment and subdued principle ... infirm in purpose and visionary in virtue: in a word, is conduct was suggested by feeling, rather than principle; and his virtue, he could not stand the pressure of occasion. (Romance of the Forest, p. 2)
La Motte is a very complicated character. He is a weak man and lets his passions take over most of his action. As the story opens, he has been a member of a vicious society and must now flee everyone. He is really very confused within. He often lets "...his agitation, . . . overcome his reason" (p.4). He marries a beautiful rich woman whom loves him dearly, but their relationship shows him in possession of the wife. He is extremely autocratic to her. La Motte sort of orders Madame la Motte around and she just listens to his commands. It is because of his debts that they had to leave Paris, a place where she loved dearly and had many friends to a secluded abbey where she had to learn to live.
On the night when la Motte is captured by the Marquis, the interesting trait of his character that emerges is that he thinks too much. He has all of these thoughts roaming around in his head, "He was the more inclined to believe this ... the inhabitants were not robbers, but persons to whom he had been betrayed by his friend or servant..." (p. 5). It seems to me that the first time la Motte saw Adeline, he was very infatuated with her: "Every moment of farther observation heightened the surprise of la Motte, and interested him more warmly in her favour ... seemed to him like a romance of imagination, rather than an occurrence of real life" (pg. 7). He is overwhelmed with Adeline's beauty and his passions towards her make him believe that this is more like a dream than reality. It is true that he never admits to himself that his love for her is more than paternal, but the text shows otherwise.
Marianne shares this trait of self-consciousness and intense reflection (as does Elinor Dashwood). Marianne is always thinking about love and she idealizes her coming partner as well as Willoughby. Marianne and La Motte aren't thinking logically at all and let their imaginations get in the way of a clear perception of reality. Marianne behaves much the same as LaMotte when Willoughby rescues her and then he comes back the next morning to check in on her. "...His name was good, his residence was in their favourite village ... Her imagination was busy..." (Sense and Sensibilityp. II). She is also overwhelmed with imagination and gets in that state of mind where she doesn't really notice what is going on around her, but that Willoughby is in the room and he is here for her.
Margaret Drabble gives an interesting description of Marianne. She wrote, "Marianne embodies emotion, openness, enthusiasm", she also states that Marianne "...is a woman who believes in speaking and acting spontaneously from the heart. She would like to do this not only during the most crucial times of her life, but all the rest of the time too ... a portrait of a typical disciple of Romanticism." This free expression type of behavior is seen when Marianne describes Colonel Brandon (who is a melancholy man of sensibility much like Monsieur de Verteuille), but while the secondary heroine in The Romance of the Forest can enter into this kind of gentle chivalrous male, Marianne sees nothing but passivity: "His understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardour, and his voice no expression" (S&S, Chapter 10).
The character of Marianne is as complex as La Motte; she is introduced in the same kind of analytical complicated language: "Marianne's abilities were ... sensible and clever; but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: She was everything but prudent" (S&S, p. 9). And what she wanted in a man had to fit her certain criteria, which consisted of loving music, striking figure, has to have real taste, he has to be a lover and a connoisseur, "'To satisfy me, those characters must be unified..." (S&Sp. 15). These characteristics are all in Willoughby's to her eyes. Marianne describes him in such a way that he fits everything that she is looking for, her passion for him grows very strong: "His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantly raised against Marianne ... her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favorite story" (S&S, pp 40-4 1).
This description is one that makes Willoughby out to sound like some hero that people read about in stories. Marianne lets her imagination of him run wild and her passions let her believe all of these things in the short time that she has met him. "To Marianne it had all the distinguishing tenderness which a lover's heart could give..." (S&S, p 62). Passage after passage in the novel shows Marianne's unhidden love for him and how greatly she longed for him to marry her. In the beginning of the novel she finds herself realizing how fast she lures herself away from the real life. "Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination of ... herself had outstripped the truth" (S&S, p. 20). Austen did this to let the reader know how easy it is for Marianne to enter a state of mind close to dreams, how her life is built out of dreams.
Radcliffe showed the same state of mind and type of personality in la Motte. Here is a typical description of him: "...La Motte was even for a while suspended; ... appeared like a vision, or one of those improbable fictions that sometimes are exhibited in a romance: ... the beauty and seeming innocence of Adeline, united with the pleadings of humanity in her favour..." (Romance of the Forest, p 8). La Motte becomes emotionally involved with Adeline in a strong way; when he is driven by the Marquis to let the Marquis seduce her and later to murder her, he becomes desperate and his thoughts are as remarkable as those of Elinor Dashwood when she is conflicted over her love for Edward (a reflection of Marianne's love for Willoughby only presented more maturely, with more consideration). Adeline is just one of the things in the novel which show how he broods over what has happened to him and his family. She is the sort of fragment of romance he got into debt for. She is a daughter-lover who has stepped out of some romance novel. The description that la Motte gives of her makes the reader think of some angel-like creature, "...imagination suggest to him the sands of distant pursuits" (Romance of the Forest, p. 10). Somewhere in La Motte's mind Adeline is what he wants (so his wife is right to be jealous). His son acts out what he would have. Adeline's real lover and later husband, Theodore is presented as a rival for the Marquis, but the deeper rivalry is between Theodore and La Motte. La Motte is a stand-in for the Marquis.
Marianne and la Motte share other characteristics. They are intense and impatient, grow irritated easily. With Marianne this is seen when she is waiting for her reply back from Willoughby. She becomes irritable and restless and doesn't understand why he hasn't written. She isn't afraid to show what her emotions are. La Motte is the same way. "...La Motte rose at an early hour, impatient to be gone ... his distress may be more easily imagined than described" (Romance of the Forest, p I 1). He hates to wait. His emotions are very visible. La Motte is always "...desirous to hasten forward" (Romance of the Forest, p 13) during the trip: "The deepening gloom now reminded la Motte he had no time to lose, but curiosity prompted him to explore farther..." (p. 16). With Marianne, the emotion is more touching but just as visiable: everyone knew that she was happy. "This was the season of happiness to Marianne. Her heart was devoted to Willoughby, and the found attachment to Norland..." (S&S, p 50). She finds herself belonging to someone that she has dreamed about and talked about. Once she has found Willoughby she becomes very attached. It was thinking and dreaming about Willoughby that kept her happy everyday and glowing with love. It is this type of passion that makes both La Motte and Marianne melancholy characters.
We could say that other characters in both novels are melancholy (in S&S Brandon, Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars; in The Romance of the ForestAdeline, the Marquis, La Luc), but La Motte and Marianne have a passionate melancholy that takes over their characters. Both the characters find it hard to hide their feelings and also become sick because the people they feel very passionate for hurt them or don't feel the same way towards them.
First with la Motte, he becomes very depressed and falls into this deep seclusion because of his guilt over gambling and his response to Adeline. "...La Motte himself, though a man little susceptible to tenderness, could not be insensible to her solicitudes. Whenever he relaxed from the sulleness of misery, it was at the influence of Adeline" (Romance of the Forest, p 34). At first Adeline makes him feel better when he realizes what has happened to him in his life. Then when his manner changes to depression it is because of Adeline, whom this whole time does not share the same feelings la Motte has of her: :La Motte had now passed above a month in this seclusion ... recover tranquility and even cheerfulness ... diffused around him was a short continuance; he became suddenly gloomy and reserved; ... spend whole hours in the most secluded parts of the forest, devoted to melancholy and secret grief ... affected a cheerfulness that was too artificial to escape detection. (Romance of the Forest, pp 44-45). Madame de la Motte could sense this very easily, but since she is cold and reserved (something like Fanny Dashwood in S&S), she cannot enter into her husband's feeling at all and simply grows white with anger at Adeline.
When troubled, Marianne displays this same resort to seclusion as La Motte: "They saw nothing of Marianntill dinner time, when she entered the room and took her place at the table with out saying a word ... tender compassion..." (S&S, p. 77). It is natural for her to want to stay away from everyone to hide her distress and not show her pain; Elinor does this, but Marianne goes farther. She deliberately courts illness, refuses to eat; she was on a road to self-destruction as she says herself.
In the end both characters are chastened and appear somewhat stronger and more in control than they were at the opening of the two novels. La Motte refuses to murder Adelina; he helps his servant Peter, flee with Adeline; at the close of the book, he confesses his part in a series of crimes. Thus Adelina goes far away with La Motte and never returns again. The intensity of this relationship is lost at the end of the book. Marianne too must learn to move on to a form of health and acceptance of prosaic reality: "Marianne Dashwood was bom to an extraordinary fate. She was bom to discover the falsehood to her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was bom to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship..." (S&S, p 354). She has learned to see in Colonel Brandon the truly romantic man. It is interesting that neither this hero-villain nor this heroine end up perfectly happy.
These two novels can be seen as exploring passion in many phases. The authors don't care for cold, reserved, selfish people; they would not have the reader cast aside romance. All the exemplary characters in the novel are strongly romantic and passionate in their ways (Brandon, Elinor and Edward Ferrars, Adeline, Theodore, Louis, La Motte's son, La Luc, Monsieur de Verteuil), but their passions are habitually under control.
* This paper represents a revision of an original essay-journal which was done under my guidance and after conversation with me. It also reflects the classroom discussions we had about Austen, Radcliffe, and the gothic.