Gothics, ghosts, and and l'écriture-femme

The Romance of the Forest

by Ann Ward Radcliffe

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840), Eldena Ruin (1825)

Introduction; A Stunning Opener; Inner Worlds; Friedrich's art; Criticism by Summers, Varma, Garber; Anticlericalism; Disjunction and Moral Lesson; A Ruin; Friedrich's Abbey in the Oak Wood; A Review of Rictor Norton's Mistress of Udolpho; More Radcliffe Bibliography

Date: Fri, 09 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest Reply-To:

Dear All,

There have been so many editions of The Romance of the Forest since its first publication you can only follow the history editions and translations by consulting Deborah Rogers's A Bio-Bibliography of Ann Radcliffe. The novel was quickly turned into a play too.

Like Dagny, I will be reading the Oxford World Classics paperback edited by Chloe Chard. The introduction is long; maybe it is best just to read the first few pages which situate the novel chronologically and tell something of Radcliffe's life. The literary analysis will make more sense after reading the novel. If someone knows of another edition available in print which is not expensive, please let us know.

I also own a copy of the 3 volume Arno Press reprint of an 1827 edition of the novel; this has an introduction by Devendra P. Varma (a very great writer on the gothic -- his books on the "Gothic Flame" and the circulating library are "musts" for those interested in gothicism and the 18th century gothic). I am very fond of The Romance of the Forest. I have taught it twice and it was probably the first later 18th century novel by a woman beyond Jane Austen that I fell in love with. When someone asked me to write about my first encounter with Fanny Burney, I ended up writing about how finding a old copy of a later 18th century edition on the open shelves of Brooklyn College Library (3 elegant brown volumes) and taking it out and falling in love with the book. These led me to want to read more 18th century "minor" women and the one I could find was Fanny Burney and I found her in an 1892 3 volume editions of her diaries and correspondences.

Radcliffe's gifts are strongly on display and not overstrained in this book. It is also an extrapolation of a certain kind of female sexuality done more understandably -- pictorially and dramatically -- than it had ever been done before. One that appealed to me. It has a Rousseau sequence -- in the opening of Volume 3 we have an idyll in Switzerland. Radcliffe asks serious questions about the nature of people, and if letting nature go leads to fulfillment or profound violence. She is a Whig liberal and critiques the ancien regime.

More on Sunday,

Cheers to all,

Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] Ann Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest Reply-To:

As I wrote I'm very fond of this book and so tried to divide it by its natural rhythms. It falls into phases. At times it's like a prose poem interspersed with verse; then again you get a sequence of intense action or revelation. I didn't want to go against the grain of the text, and the divisions into volumes count (as they do in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensbility and Pride and Prejudice whose patterns work similarly as they are not fundamentally altered from the original texts, Elinor and Marianne and First Impressions written by her in the 1790s).

For Sunday,

Jan 25: Editor's Introduction, Vol I, Chs 1-3
Feb 1: Vol I, Chs 4-5
Feb 8: Vol I, Chs 6-7
Feb 15: Vol II, Chs 8-10
Feb 22: Vol II, Chs 11-12
Feb 29: Vol II, Chs 13-14
Mar 7: Vol III, Chs 15-16
Mar 14: Vol III, Chs 17-18
Mar 21: Vol III, Chs 19-20
Mar 28: Vol III, Chs 21-23
Apr 4: Vol III, Chs 24-26

Radcliffe's other fairly short books are The Sicilian Romance (very worth reading and also available in a good Oxford World's classics edited by Alison Millbank) and The Italian ( available in a Penguin edited by Robert Miles; in an Oxford classics edited by Frederick Garber; and in a gorgeous Wildside Press edition.

The Sicilian Romance was published in 1790; The Romance of the Forest 1791, and The Italian, 1797. Radcliffe's gifts -- poetry and violence, sadomasochistic female sexuality -- first comes out in SC. The Italian is her most accomplished book as a swift active narrative with picturesque sequences: it contains the figure of Schedoni, the father-lover-murderous monk which influenced Byron and partly comes out of Radcliffe's reaction to Lewis's Monk. The Mysteries of Udolpho is enormously long and you'd have to be ambitious to squeeze it in; my feeling is Udolpho shows Radcliffe overstraining her gifts, though it has sequences of sheer despair and shattered crying as well as inset ghost and visionary sequences that go well beyond what we find in The Romance of the Forest. The Italian differs from RofF and Udolpho in making an upright hero the center of the narrative, which displacement I see as a form of self-censorship and weakness on Radcliffe's part.

The standard biography is now Rictor Norton's Mistress of Udolpho; it's very good. But also handy and useful (if you can find it) is the old Twayne, Ann Radcliffe by E. B. Murray, and very good on the gothic and Radcliffe, Robert Miles's Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress. Aline Grant's older biography is worth reading still for the attitude she conveys towards Radcliffe and odd details which don't fit her own thesis about Radcliffe's conventional background.

Ann Radcliffe's texts invented the terrain of the female gothic as we have known it for a couple of hundred years now. Margaret Atwood's Grace and A. S. Byatt's Christabel La Motte (La Motte is the name of the hero-villain of RofF) are daughters of Radcliffe's Adeline.



January 25, 2003

Re: Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, Chs 1-3: A Stunning Opener

After the many times I've read this book I am still impressed with this opening. It's a stunner.

To sum up the events up to the point where Adeline tells her history to Madame de La Motte, As our story opens, Pierre de La Motte flees Paris with his wife to escape a bad debt from gambling. They take with them a servant, Peter and soon are on a heath which feels labyrinthian. (This is common to all Radcliffe's work). The labyrinth, the maze: a central image of confusion and bewilderment, of powerlessness and loss.

Night falls and they find themselves near a small and ancient house, which stands alone on a heath. La Motte listens in apprehensive anxiety, no sound is heard but the wind. La Motte goes further; and allows himself to come into forlorn and desolate apartment (word for room) and is locked in. He fears someone is planning to murder him; he hears the sobs of a young girl inbetween the wind. A man enters with a terrified girl; she is in man's power; he gives LaMotte the choice of taking away with him this unknown girl (Adeline) or dying. He opt for Adeline; he is joined by Peter who has come to look for him; they are taken back to carriage, and proceed on their way.

They wander through beautiful countryside -- Radcliffe has wonderful descriptive powers. Adeline falls very ill, comes near death. After retiring back until her powers are somewhat recovered, they find themselves in the vast forest of Fontanville; Lyons is a river in the south of France. They are in the southeast, not far from Avignon, Switzerland and Italy nearby.

They never see anybody.

They come upon an abbey, the Abbey of St Clair. The carriage breaks down; in such a lonely part of the forest, Fontainville is hidden by trees, isolated, apparently forgotten. where they see before them dark towers rising above the trees. It has too has labyrinthian dungeon; everything in ruin.

Naturally, they decide to stay.

Madame de la Motte not keen; she is after social life but also voice of rigid common sense. They hear an uncommon noise. La Motte says to ignore it.

Adeline asks LaMotte if he believes in spirits; when he hesitates, they hear more; it could be banditti -- robbers, thugs. Europe was not policed in the middle ages, nor in the later 18th century. Peter is comic relief: his function is similar to that of Sancho Panza in Cervantes's Don Quixote. They make a fire by a heath, and manage a cheerful night.

This opening has been imitated countless times. Adeline now troubled by dreams -- of which more in another posting. except to say that the motif of dreams and nightmares are central to Radcliffe and the gothic..

As Peter goes off for supplies, La Motte explores the abbey. He cllimbs into a ruined tower, and we find some wretch had lived there. A trap door underneath which leads to a dungeon. A hidden suite of apartments. He could hide here were the police to come after him. After Peter goes for supplies, and Pierre de La Motte looks about, de La Motte decides this is perhaps the safest place he could stay and decides they'll hang in here quite a while, even though Peter returns with story that it is a place owned by a powerful nobleman. Someone had once been brought here and never emerged.

This is not that improbable in era of ancien régime.

And now we get an inserted history of Adeline as far as she understands it: -- after she and Madame are becoming a sort of mother and daughter. She is the daughter of Louis de St. Pierre who lost her mother at around age 8. Now her father is cold, rough and puts her in convent; he wanted her to take vows (again this not unusual in aristocratic and wealthy Catholic families in Europe. She was allowed not to take vows; taken to Paris.

This time the dream explicit: her father is threatening her while they are in a forest; he shows her a mirror; shes sees herself wounded, bleeding profusely.

Is there a Freudian in the house?

She is delighted by Paris, but he isn't; he takes her to a house deep in a forest and leaves her with two strange men. She is locked in but cannot lock anyone out. There are two doors to her room (this situation is repeated in Udolpho). He deserts her; the ruffians come to seize her; she is taken to the hut in which LaMotte found her and handed over to him. That is all she knows.

So much for the story. I have really omitted what makes the book for me so effective, intriguing, rereadable.


Re: Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, Chs 1-3: Inner Worlds

There is so much one could say that don't know which tack to take up, and hope to leave room for others to say what they find here. So here are just a few qualities that leap out at me.

Anxiety. Radcliffe is a master of anxiety; she creates, sustains, plays with it. This anxiety is not just a result of worrying who is behind the door, possibly with an axe, but emotional anxiety. I suggest it's important if the book is to work for you to enter into Pierre de La Motte's anxiety just as much as Adeline; he may be a father substitute as potentially transgressive lover, a master and very severe and cold to his wife, but he himself is riven by fear and powerless in himself.

Adeline's anxieties are multifold. Norton suggests that Radcliffe was taken from her parents to live with her uncle and aunt at about age 8; we see Adeline's mother dies when she is 7 and she is taken to live apart from her parents. The man who is her father shows no love and far from protecting her, abandons her; the man who takes his place hands her over to LaMotte. A triple displacement is going on here. She yearns for companionship and turns to Madame de La Motte.

Subjectivity. The only one previous to Radcliffe in the English novel who created or used a language, an idiolect which traced the inner subjectivities of characters so gracefully and seemingly effortlessly was Richardson. Radcliffe's style is key to her success, and it's one which naturally accommodates free indirect speech, moving back and forth from being a narrator to entering into her central presence's minds. Note how close up Radcliffe can get; the passage where Adeline gets so ill and Madamde de La Motte watches her impressed Austen who repeated in it the illness of Marianne with Elinor watching over her:

Madame La Motte went to her chamber, and found her sunk in a disturbed slumber. Her breathing was short and irregular——-she frequently started, or sighed, and sometimes she muttered an incoherent sentence. While Madame gazed with concern upon her languid countenance, she awoke, and, looking up, gave her hand to Madame La Motte, who found it burning with fever. She had passed a restless night, and, as she now attempted to rise, her head, which beat with intense pain, grew giddy, her strength failed, and she sunk back (Oxford RofF, ed Chard, p. 11).

The atmosphere of the landscape, the visibilia. It's just superb and the characters move in and out of space. It's not realistic in the manner of Guy Mannering (I instance this since we just read it on this list); it's more archetypal, but nonetheless emotionally expressive and convincing for all that. Here's a piece that brings in the gothic's emphasis on history and losses; all these ruined abbeys encode the power of time:

" He approached, and perceived the Gothic remains of an abbey: it stood on a kind of rude lawn, overshadowed by high and spreading trees, which seemed coeval with the building, and diffused a romantic gloom around. The greater part of the pile appeared to be sinking into ruins, and that, which had withstood the ravages of time, shewed the remaining features of the fabric more awful in decay. The lofty battlements, thickly enwreathed with ivy, were half demolished, and become the residence of birds of prey. Huge fragments of the eastern tower, which was almost demolished, lay scattered amid the high grass, that waved slowly to the breeze" (Ch 2, 15).

She's good at capturing the quality of light, and soon we are in a Piranesi painting. There is much artistry here; it's elaborately artificial, playful I suppose too:

"The dark mists were seen to roll off to the west, as the tints of light grew stronger, deepening the obscurity of that part of the hemisphere, and involving the features of the country below; meanwhile, in the east, the hues became more vivid, darting a trembling lustre far around, till a ruddy glow, which fired all that part of the Heavens, announced the rising sun. At first, a small line of inconceivable splendour emerged on the horizon ..." (22)

My last inward complex to emphasize for now: when Adeline tells her story I am impressed with how Radcliffe conveys her alienation from people and her sensitivity. What's thematized is Radcliffe's conscious critique of the ancien regime. She came from a Whiggish liberal family who had connections to reformers; they were the type who at first welcomed the French revolution. In her Journey book (1794) she builds a strong case against how nunneries repress women, how perverse the life in them is, a death-in-life she says, and she takes an attitude towards the politics of such places which is quite similar to Diderot's; we see it asserted that the girl is put there because it would cost money to give her a life; better let her (in effect) be dead. This is strong stuff -- overlooked often because done in fantasy mode.

What is made effective is emotional distress. When Adeline turns to other people with her heart open, she finds not only do they not understand and not reciprocate, but they stretch a claw out as they see an opening: that's what her putative father does. She turns to the abbess, to him all opening vulnerability, all eagerness, to be shot down. My feeling is Radcliffe is a half-aware writer (the word unconscious is overused and I'm not sure there is such a thing) who lets go when she puts her pen to a page and pours her inner being out.


Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe: ; Inner Worlds - Friedrich Reply-To:

I think Caspar David Friedrich has some good illustrations to the novel. For your information some links:

"the gothic's emphasis on history and losses; all these ruined abbeys"

Author: CRAM, Ralph Adams.
Title: The Ruined Abbeys of Great Britain.
Description: Boston: Marshall Jones Bompany, 1927. First printing, thus. xiii + 298 pages + (52) plates from photographs & plans


Caspar David Friedrich

...Moonrise over the Sea; ruined abbeys and shores patrolled by spectral monks; solitary trees listing in a harsh terrain, as in The Single Tree; a countryside heroically gaunt, as epic and cheerless as a polar sunset. Brooding and refining on his sketches, Friedrich often conflated views of disparate regions in one landscape.

Abbey In The Oakwood (1822) Just one more Friedrich :


Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest

In response to Susanne,

Welcome, welcome to the list. Thank you very much for those URLs. Maybe we'll feature one of the pictures on our homesite. We have the problem they need to be sufficiently small and sometimes a horizontal rectangle doesn't do well. Caspar David Friedrich is absolutely appropriate as a sensibility and point of view too. Aries's The Hour of Our Death where he discusses the later 18th century's fascination with death, its displacement of religious faith with a strongly secular and experiential view of life, and the new psychological way of seeing truth all come into the emotional and intellectual complex of the period's art which includes Friedrich and Radcliffe.

I have the Arno Press reprint with Varma's older introduction. Unhappily my class and I have been snowed out of existence for our first meeting tonight; on the other hand, I now have a free night and I will try to reread Varma tonight. He is always stimulating and pleasurable to read. I read his classic book on the gothic, The Gothic Flame when I was writing my dissertation; more recently I read his The Evergreen Tree of Diabolical Knowledge -- on the circulating libraries of the period. Both are excellent, scholarly; I xeroxed the second for the information. For those unfamiliar with Varma, the one problem with his writing is he overspeaks and he will make you feel a book's quality and texture is actually much better than it is. I find this a minor fault, but it is something to watch out for. I'm using the Oxford edition by Chard for this read; I don't own any other copy of RofF. On the reprint of the Garber with a "new" introduction," it seems Oxford is reprinting these older texts with "new" introductions. I don't know how "new" Varma's introduction really is. I know little about his life (or that of Montague Summers, another man who did ground-breaking early work), Varma's books were written in the early to mid 20th century and unless I'm mistaken (which I may be) he's dead (or very very old). He wrote the introductions for the Folio reprints of the Northanger Novels. I don't know where one would look up his dates.


Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest

Thanks for the reply; some more online information and texts.

Devendra P. Varma

The Varma Goths Literary Society

And to M. Summers I have read his Gothic Quest.
To bad he never got to vol II, as he intended to. He died in 1948.


Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, Chs 1-3: Inner Worlds

Hello all,

First of all, welcome to Susanne. I enjoyed the opening of The Romance of the Forest very much, but can't think of much to add to what Ellen has said.

I was really struck by how immediately gripping the opening is, by contrast with 'Udolpho', where, if my memory holds good, there are about 200 pages of romantic scene-setting before the real plot starts. Here Radcliffe gets in the thick of things right away, with the archetypal Gothic opening, which, as Ellen said, has been much imitated since. I was interested to see how Radcliffe gives us two variants on the same scene, the carriage breaking down in a remote spot and the need to seek shelter in a foreboding building - first in the tower where La Motte is immediately cast into a dungeon, and then in the ruined abbey.

Another point that struck me was how Adeline immediately becomes the object of suspicion simply because of her youth and beauty - she loves Mme La Motte and sees her as a mother figure, but is seen by her as a rival and suspected of drawing away the affections of her husband.

I was very interested in Ellen's comments about how Radcliffe shows the oppressive nature of nunneries, and how women were forcibly shut away there as an alternative to paying for them to have any real life. That same horror of nunneries is prominent in 'Corinne', where the heroine is shocked to hear the bells ringing each time another woman is accepted as a nun, and sees it as a death knell - also in 'Delphine', where the grieving Therese's decision to take the veil is seen as a form of suicide. I remember when I first read 'Villette' I was puzzled by the horror which Lucy feels at the vision of "the nun", especially as this apparently supernatural apparition is eventually explained away in factual terms, very much in the vein of Radcliffe. But now I'm realising more how much horror there was in the very image of the nun.

All the best,
Judy Geater

Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, Chs 1-3: Inner Worlds

Judy wrote:

I was very interested in Ellen's comments about how Radcliffe shows the oppressive nature of nunneries, and how women were forcibly shut away there as an alternative to paying for them to have any real life. That same horror of nunneries is prominent in 'Corinne', where the heroine is shocked to hear the bells ringing each time another woman is accepted as a nun, and sees it as a death knell - also in Delphine, where the grieving Therese's decision to take the veil is seen as a form of suicide. I remember when I first read 'Villette' I was puzzled by the horror which Lucy feels at the vision of "the nun", especially as this apparently supernatural apparition is eventually explained away in factual terms, very much in the vein of Radcliffe. But now I'm realising more how much horror there was in the very image of the nun.

And I always pictured it as such a peaceful life. Hard, in the sense of working and staying busy all day, but peaceful.

I'm looking forward to reading Diderot's Nun. I believe he does not portray the life as peaceful in the least, but rather as we see in Delphine.


Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe, The Romance of the Forest, Chs 1-3: Inner Worlds Reply-To:

One thing I noticed in the beginning of Chapter 3 was the value of work, of having something to do that accomplished something, how it kept one occupied.

"La Motte arranged his little plan of living. His mornings were usually spent in shooting, or fishing, and the dinner, thus provided by his industry, he relished with a keener appetite than had ever attended him at the luxurious tables of Paris."

This could be the first time La Motte ever had to "do" anything, to provide. He had money before and didn't have to worry about the daily details of life.


Re: Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest: Varma and Garber

Thank you to Susanne for finding the information and pages on Varma and Summers. One might dub them the "fathers" of modern literary criticism and scholarship about gothic texts, archetypes and art.

Two nights ago I did read the two introductions to my Arno press reprint of an 1827 edition of The Romance of the Forest. It was printed in 1974 so Varma was alive when the introduction was published and he may have written it for the edition. I found it a disappointment in comparison with his essays prefacing the Northanger series for the Folio and other of his essays I've read on Radcliffe. It's not enough on the text at hand; he situates Radcliffe in the context of the poets and other writers of the romantic movement; on the other hand, he is very good on these, very interesting and links Radcliffe's texts back to Milton, Coleridge, Byron, Lewis, Keats, and interestingly, Wordsworth's closet dramas. She is also linked via these people to German romantic poetry and drama of the period (just then being translated and performed in coarse versions on the English stage).

I liked two bits which I'll type out so others can get something of Varma's style -- he wrote in evocative ways not usual for a scholar. First he likens Radcliffe to some Ossianic poetry by Clara Reeve and Anna Laetitia Barbauld. I hadn't known they wrote any. Here are Barbauld's lines, "'On Corsica' [remember Boswell wrote about this place]:

Thy numerous streams, that bursting from the cliff,
Down the steep channeled rock impetuous pour
With grateful murmur; on the fearful edge
Of the rude precipice, thy hamlets brown
And straw-roofed cots, which from the level vale
Scarce seen, among the cragy hanging cliffs
Seem like an eagle's nest serial built

vaguely foreshadows Wordsworth's

..................Nature's self is hushed
And, but a scattered leaf, which rustles through
The thick wove foliage not a sound is heard
To break the midnight air.

The elfin themes, misty moonlights and spectral visitants are all reverberations in the changing Romantic sky."

The second passage by Varma also emphasizes the spectral romanticism of Radcliffe's texts and their psychological melancholy and burning desires:

"Haunted by a pathologic melancholy, both the 'gothic' and 'romantic' heroes are wanderes uprooted from society, burning with a flaming desire to plumb the dangerous unknown; or capricious, intriguing princes who, propelled by a consuming ambition, sacrifice friends and foes alike to their dark and mysterious ends. The settings in which they appear are often wild and gloomy -- murky moors, barren heaths, castle of luxury ro decay set in dark landscapes, and ofren in foreign climes. They slip imperceptibly from the real into the other world, breaking down the barriers begtween the physical and the psychic or spiritual."

Varma overwrites but he captures a mood out of which Pierre de La Motte, Adeline and a number of the characters yet to come in our novel emerge. La Motte is a Byronic hero, a man of feeling gone twisted by his guilt and inability to free himself from his crimes except by doing more crimes -- as we'll see.

In the same edition Garber argues that The Romance of the Forest is still juvenalia, a judgement I cannot concur with. He sees Udolpho as just so superior because so much more developed; like Judy, I see in Udolpho langueurs (I think that's the word), long sentimental parts (the opening though I do like) and overstraining of Radcliffe's talent since she is not good at making believable characters or writing dialogue. She does take much further the kind of exploration and description we see in RofF, but RofF does it superbly well and concisely. The difference between RofF and Sicilian Romance is speed: Radcliffe has slowed down: Sicilian Romance has a novel of terror, murder, sex, sublime happening in every paragraph; so much is crowded in, we are breathless from her imaginings.

She also has one of her best characters in all her fiction here: Pierre de la Motte. This Garber does agree with and he provides a good analysis of Pierre which I'll type just a bit out of:

he is the most imaginatively developed character in her fiction prior to Schedoni in The Italian ... La Motte's contradictions and radical ambivalence reveal a moral chiarocscuro which is most often associated with other kinds of fiction ...

We don't see this quite yet but we will as we go along. Says Garber "there is less of Satan in La Motte than Rousseau's St. Preux -- lover to Rousseau's Julie. Adeline is a kind of Julie.

Garber also recognizes the proliferation of lover-harsh-father figures in _RofF_, the sharp spite in Madame de La Motte (to come) and jealousy -- if Norton is right and there was an incestuous attempt on the part of Radcliffe's father towards her, this is interesting as Madame de La Motte is the mother figure.

People often write very well about Radcliffe. Sometimes it's as much or more fun to read about her than reading her herself -- except when you begin to open her books and read three chapters of the type we had this week and for the next few weeks to come.


Re: Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest: Anticlericalism

I've been reading Dagny's FrenchLiterature list and a few days ago now there was a good thread on anticlericalism in France. It begins in 1685 with the very repressive Edict of Nantes which outlawed Protestantism and the civil war against Protestants started by Louis XIV. It hurt the economy very badly and frightened everyone. The church throughout the 17th and 18th century supported the ancien regime; while there were many very poor Catholic priests, and these people joined the third estate in 1789, the bulk of the church's power stood behind wealth, privilege, and military brute power. Combine this with the growth of secularism, hatred of hypocrisy and the use of the church in lettres de cachet and putting daughters away who might cost you money (nunneries), you see where Voltaire's "ecrasez l'infame" comes in. This anger and distrust continued throughout the 19th century, but was particularly strong in the 3rd republic. You can connect the lack of the imposition of Christmas on everyone to this; few Xmas stories; the resolute secularism of state schooling: the recent decision to insist girls wear secular modern clothes to school belongs to this complex of ideals of liberty.

Radcliffe was consciously strongly anti-ancien regime. So too Madame de Stael who began the revolution as a strong reformer. In Radcliffe's travel book she visits a nunnery and her commentary is powerfully realistic and sceptical about what life is like for girls in such places -- only the rich lived well. It seems to her a fearful kind of insidious power because so easily taken up by others. As Dagny suggests, we going to see more of this in Diderot's The Nun -- based on an actual incident.


Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest: Disjunction and Moral Lesson

I feel that Radcliffe's writing is half-aware, something between control and unconscious automatic obsession. As "proof" of this disjunction, I'd like to mention one more element in the opening of this novel. Note how the first paragraph is not just awkward and abstract in its formulation but starts the tale off with moral lesson:

"When once sordid interest seizes on the heart, it freezes up the source of every warm and liberal feeling; it is an enemy alike to virtue and to taste -- this it perverts, and that it annihiliates. the time may come, my friend, when death shall dissolve the sinews of avarice, and justice be permitted to resume her rights."

Fanny Burney's Cecilia and Camilla begin with very similar moralizing-ethical psychological kind of paragraphs, which are similarly abstract and circumstance rooted. It was very common in the period to begin a novel with a moral pronouncement which was seen as projecting a central lesson the novel was going to embody through its story or central characters. Johnson's Life of Savage begins this way. And Radcliffe will end her novel with a return to the moral perspective -- as does Johnson and Burney in the two above- cited novels.

Austen does not depart from this; she simply gives us the moral lesson ironically and ends that way: "It is a truth universally acknowledged ..." "I leave to my readers to decide ..."; Lucy Steele is an instance of what ruthless self interest and a willingness to divest oneself of every scruple and hard work in that direction can lead to ..."

This was very typical of magazine fiction of the period. These punctuating passages suggest to me that what we are reading these novels for was not quite conscious in the author's mind. They saw their tales as embodying ethics and satire.


Date: Wed, 28 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Home Page: A Ruin (The Romance of the Forest)

Our home page is now one of the pictures to which Susanne referred us. Thanks, Susanne!

It seems to me a perfect illustration of the place where La Motte and all are now staying.


Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Home Page: Abbey In The Oakwood (1822)

Thank you to Dagny for putting the picture up. Not only is it appropriate for our gothic novel -- with Radcliffe's real dread of "tyranny and supersitution" (two byewords for the 18th century) and slightly eerie/creepy, it's also fitting for much of the East Coast in the US. We are freezing cold still, snow and ice everywhere, and very black skies at night :).

Cheers to all,
Stay warm inside,

I like the "Eldena Ruin" best, very picturesque.
Ruine Eldena. C.D. Friedrich,1825, Berlin, Staatliche Museen

Yes, this seems to point towards a very emblematic way of reading the book to follow. Now we are to be presented with a living embodiment of someone whose virtue has been frozen, perverted, and annihilated by sordid interest. But death will "dissolve the sinews of avarice" (what a marvellous phrase!), and with death will come a restoration of justice.

As someone already mentioned (Judy, I think), Radcliffe moves into the thick of the action remarkably quickly in this novel--much faster than I remember in The Italian.

Leslie Robertson

A Review of Rictor Norton's Mistress of Udolpho: The Life of Ann Radcliffe

Tonight I hope people won't mind if I repost something I put on Litalk-l (a now nearly defunct list) a few years ago when I just finished reading Rictor Norton's Mistress of Udolpho. I have revised it some.

just finished reading the above biography and found it curiously moving. For the first time someone made sense of Radcliffe's books in terms of her life in ways that make her a sympathetic figure -- at least to me. It's not that Norton has found anything all that new or different than was known before. (There have been biographies and attempts at biographical chapters). It has been known that Ann Ward Radcliffe came from a dissenting and Unitarian background, and her uncles and cousins included people who were radical thinkers for their time; people who rose to a middling position in the Church of England because they were intellectually respected; physicians'; and still further types who were businessmen with good taste, abolitionists who made a lot of money with Wedgewood. It has also been known that she lived in Bath as well as London; that she was an only late child of a couple who were themselves tradespeople all their lives; also that between the ages of 7 and 9 she did not live with her parents, but went to stay with some of these intellectual relatives. She also was very well read in English classics, highly educated in the areas of music and aesthetics. She could probably read French fluently. Much of her early life in London with her husband William (from the time of her earliest books to The Italian), including writing her books, opera-going, and travel across England and onto the Continent is also well known, documented, and has been the center of earlier biographies.

Where Norton differs is in trying to talk about her personality inwardly, and in talking about the quarter of a century after The Italian and before her death when she published nothing. I think what makes modern readers grow restless when they read her books is that she carefully eschews all inward psychology of a deep and specific kind. The heroines emote, but it's always over landscape. Their fears, anxieties, and dreams are always put in the large of large generalities and so we never feel we are in contact with the actual realities of a thinking mind. In short, Radcliffe hides herself from us; everything felt is felt about the external world. Endless descriptions of the clouds, but none about the specific complexion of the heroine's mind, her particular thoughts.

The books also almost obsessively show us a vulnerable frail heroine who is threatened and abused by paternal male figures; whose relationship with maternal/aunt figures is one of betrayal: the woman is treacherous, deserts the heroine. The Romance of the Forest ends with a long Rousseauistic sequence that is a deep retreat into a dream world of melancholy; The Mysteries of Udolpho adds to this a couple of sequences about uncanny dreams in the mind. The Italian takes us into an attack on reactionary religion, and shows us a neurotic obsessive personality in Schedoni.

Norton succeeds in connecting the elements in these novels and especially the absence of specificity in the heroine's personality to Radcliffe's shyness, extreme sensitivity, withdrawal, and mostly reclusive life. She never visited people and would not let people visit her. He has a theory about her young years for which he has no proof but his Jungian reading of her books: she was an abused daughter; she was cut off from her mother; she had some traumatic experience when young. But he does have evidence for her later years: he is the first person to show she lived for years by herself in Windsor; he documents where she lived. Her husband stayed in London. I did not know that during these years people actually published in newspapers at the time that she was dead or had gone mad. Apparently the story was generally believed. Her books were also criticised heavily for the same reasons other romances were: amoral, not pro-establishment, unreal, silly, and a couple of bright reviewers, as sadomasochistic (though they didn't use the term). She never responded to any of it. I can see not responding to the latter, but why never come into the papers and say I AM ALIVE, I AM NOT MAD.

Norton tries to show - and I think successfully -- that Ann Radcliffe suffered a deep depression or, as we might say, had a nervous breakdown after the publication of The Italian, and the rumors arose as crazy exaggerations of this very human fact. Partly because she never responded to the assertion she was dead or mad, the attacks on her books became ribald. Why did she have this breakdown? On one level, such things are often partly inexplicable, as what shatters one person does not bother another. Aline Grant (her earlier biographer and while thin as to facts and hagiographic-sentimental is nonethless sensitive to the "feel" of Radcliffe) suggests she was unnerved by the reviews. Norton seems to concur. Athough she was paid so highly, she was ridiculed harshly. I wonder to myself if she didn't begin herself to discern something of the sadomasochistic patterns in her books, the proto-incest; if she didn't, did someone else point these patterns out to her.

As with Edgar Allen Poe, the French seem to have appreciated her more than the down-to-earth English. Sir Walter Scott replaced her. Norton relates the quality of the mind one finds in her poetry, in her journals, and her travel books, what he finds in her childhood, and this long retreat into Windsor to the gentle sadness and refusal almost to bring her mind into the books directly to Radcliffe's life and experiences. The result is the books begin to make more sense in a number of ways.

I was very touched by the book. Most of the time all people can talk about is Radcliffe's snobbery. Her husband's protective devotion to her is another important factor in the hiding of her life from us.

There is this which Norton likes to ignore. Shortly after Mrs Radcliffe died, her husband remarried -- the French housekeeper who had been with them for years. They went to live in France, Norton says with the £8000 that had been made on the wife's books. This is not to say the husband didn't like his wife. It does show he had perhaps had other interests while she was in Windsor and throws another light on her depression and her obsession with her heroines' virginity and chastity. From her mother's will there also seems to have been strain between her husband and mother.

Norton does emphasize Radcliffe's love of the opera and theatre when young (she admired Mrs Siddons). He suggests she got the details she used for "ancient" art from her uncle's antique business. It's sometimes said she may have gone ot the Lees's school for young ladies in Bath, but there is no evidence for this. She did love landscape: her first biographer (who wrote a memoir prefaced to Gaston de Blondeville) includes reams of exquisite descriptions of places and landscape; she visits castles, including Kenilworth. She had a dog in later years. She was a poet.

I recommend this book along with Robert Miles's Great Enchantress which analyses the books along the lines of Norton and finds the same mood, archetypes, and poetic-aesthetic sensibility working itself out.

Ellen Moody

Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe Bibliography

In response to Judy, while there are essays in journals and anthologies on Radcliffe and one or other of her novels (mostly though on Udolpho and The Italian), there are not many full size books. People who know of Radcliffe and are aware of how central she is to the configuration of the gothic like to think she is well known outside gothic and academic circles, but she really isn't. The books available on her through general libraries and stores are Norton's Mistress of Udolpho (good but more a biography than a literary study) and Robert Miles, The Great Enchantress. I've tried Miles more than once, but for some reason I never get very far. She is treated in many books on the gothic, some of which have excellent chapters on her; one of the best that comes to mind is Coral Ann Howells's Love, Mystery and Misery (this was an actual title of a gothic romance in the 1790s); there are good essays (two of which are on Radcliffe) in Kenneth Graham's Gothic Fictions. A hostile one is in Judith Fleenor's Female Gothic. It's sometimes said the French really like Radcliffe more than the English and that may be, but the situation is the same there: essays in journals and anthologies, a couple of books on Radcliffe, but most books are on gothic with a chapter or two on Radcliffe in them. I mention the French to show the general situation.


Haddon Hall, said to be inspiration for Château-le-Blanc in Mysteries of Udolpho, from Ebenezer Rhodes's Peak Scenery (1819)

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Page Last Updated 25 March 2005