February 22, 2004
Re: The Romance of the Forest, Chs 11-12: The Pavilion and Her Best Poem
At the close of Volume I we had our first climax (pun intended): the sequence of bleeding and sexually-drenched dreams that terrorize Adeline. In Radcliffe's conscious mind they are probably meant to be prophetic. Volume II has several moments we could call climaxes: when Adeline reads the manuscript and when Adeline attempts to escape with a man she thinks is Peter are two such moments, and certainly the escape is well-done. The first time I read it, she fooled me. I was startled to discover the man next to Adeline was not Peter. (Sometimes we need to try to remember our first reading: the first time I read Emma I was fooled by Frank Churchill until the third volume when we suddenly see Frank and Jane through Mr Knightley's eyes and witness the cruel teasing scene which only makes sense if you grasp that Frank is Jane's clandestine (shall I whisper this?) lover.
Nonetheless, I think the climax occurs in the pavilion where the Marquis de Montalt attempts to seduce Adeline. The scene on the couch is placed between two poems, one of which is (I submit) actually living poetry today still. As the strains of "Catch the pleasures ere they fade" fade away, we are in a luxurious apartment and the Marquis attempts his suit. I'd call what is written in the next few paragraphs soft core porn for the middle class female reader of the period. Its ultimate "source" in literature is probably Clarissa (a number of scenes in this week's chapters recall Clarissa closely), but in life its suggestive desire:
"But again approaching, and addressing her in a gentle voice, he entreated her pardon for the step, which despair, and, as he called it, love had prompted. She was too much absorbed in grief to reply, till he solicited a return of his love, when her sorrow yielded to indignation, and she reproached him ..."
Again and again he approaches near, and again and again she evades him, just. Nancy Miller has written about the function of the pavilion in women's novels: it's a place apart where conventions do not hold, where social eyes are not near.
The poem is Radcliffe's best:
_Song of a Spirit_:
In the sightless air I dwell,
On the sloping sunbeams play;
Delve the cavern's inmost cell,
Where never yet did daylight stray:
Dive beneath the green seawaves,
And gambol in the briny deeps;
Skim every shore that Neptune laves,
From Lapland's plains to India's steeps.
Oft I mount with rapid force
Above the wide earth's shadowy zone;
Follow the day-star's flaming course
Through the realms of space to thought unknown.
And listen often celestial sounds
That swell the air unheard of men,
As I watch my nightly rounds
O'er woody steep, and silent glen.
Under the shade of waving trees,
On the green bank of fountain clear,
At pensive eve I sit at ease,
Whie dying music murmurs near.
And oft, on point of airy clift,
That hangs upon the western main,
I watch the gay tints passing swift
And twilight veil the liquid plain.
Then when the breeze has sunk away,
And ocean scarce is heard to heave,
For me the sea-nymphs softly play
Their dulcet shells beneath the wave.
The ray that silvers o'er the dew,
And trembles through the leafy shade,
And tints the scene withs softer hue,
Calls me to rove the lonely glade.
Or hie me to some ruined tower,
Faintly shown by moonlight gleam,
Where the lone wanderer owns my power
In shadows dire that substance seem;
Unseen I move--unknown am feared!
Fancy's wildest dreams I weave;
And oft by bards my voice is heard
To die along the gales of eve. (1791)
She puts him off until tomorrow and he withdraws. People who find her absurd, who do not yield to the mood would probably laugh at the stilted language:
When the voice ceased, a mournful strain, played with exquisite expression, sounded from a distant horn; sometimes the notes floated on the air in soft undulations ——-now they swelled into full and sweeping melody, and now died faintly into silence: when again they rose and trembled in sounds so sweetly tender, as drew tears from Adeline, and exclamations of rapture from the Marquis; he threw his arm round her, and would have pressed her towards him, but she liberated herself from his embrace, and with a look, on which was impressed the firm dignity of virtue, yet touched with sorrow, she awed him to forbearance ...
She reenacts through the rhythms of prose and imagery orgasm -- up to orgasm, stopping just short of "going all the way" (as we used crudely to call it in the 1950s) as it were.
Left alone at last, like the intrepid heroine she is, Adeline finds an unclosed window (has anyone has speculations why Radcliffe doesn't use the verb "open" but rather "unclose") near the ground and jumps. She then flees into another dim labyrinth, but this time the hero is nearby: Theodore Peyrou. We have another desperate flight and pursuit which ends in a violent encounter between Theodore and some military soldiers. It seems he has deserted his post in order to save Adeline: like Adeline, Theodore is prey to imagined terrors, anxieties, and pity.
There is another climax to come: in next week's chapters the Marquis follows Adeline to the abbey and urges Pierre de La Motte to murder her. We have one of the finest inward soliloquies Radcliffe ever wrote as Pierre decides he cannot follow the Marquis's bidding. He tries to get himself to murder Adeline but cannot. Now here is a father-daughter paradigm once again. There is obsession going on here -- looking forward to The Italian Schedoni is Ellena's father and he wants to be her lover and he almost murders her, draws himself back just in time.
These multiple climaxes are typical of women's fiction in this period: Sense and Sensiblity has two climaxes a volume, one for each of the two heroines. Its structure resembles that of The Romance of the Forest; Adeline is Elinor and Marianne combined; we have our ambivalent villain-hero in La Motte and we will soon meet a melancholy older man of sensibility. But you can find these elements also in Charlotte Smith: multiple climaxes too.
Re: The Romance of the Forest, Chs 11-12: Satire on Medical Profession and ancien régime Injustice; Romance
What follows is probably the closest Radcliffe ever comes to comedy and satire in a realistic way. She presents a sharp satire on the profession of medicine in her day. There are the surgeons and the physicians, and she sees the former as dangerous and ignorant. She is taking the upper class but educated view of the period. She shows how little doctors really know, and also how important (if sometimes useless) hope was. Some of what Radcliffe writes about Adeline's behavior here is a rationale for the way Fanny Burney behaved when her husband was truly near death. Our arrogant surgeon would bleed Theodore and deprive him of drink. He says that nature the most improper guide in the world. An early technology man, no? Adeline saves Theodore's life -- a parallel may be found in Persuasion where Anne Elliot acts decisively to save Louisa Musgrave. Adeline works to procure a sensible doctor who doesn't intervene more than is necessary, the crisis of the disorder comes on while Theodore is under his care, and Theodore survives.
Chapter XI also presents as injust the ferocious punishments someone who left his military post or disobeyed a command might endure. In this and the following chapters (next week), we get a sense of the power of the undisputed use of a lettre de cachet. This whole section is one of those people who want to argue that Radcliffe agreed with the liberal-reformist politics of her whig family can use.
Theodore and Adeline admit their love to one another as he lies convalescing. Here we do have what feels to modern readers a stiff improbability: Theodore wants Adeline to marry him now and she refuses. We are probably supposed here at least to see Theodore's view as just. Radcliffe probably wanted us to take their debate seriously as an airing of sides. A similar paradigm occurs in The Mysteries of Udolpho. Yes Adeline has the conventional norms on her side, but we are to see her as here too "weak," forboding too much; the parallel is again with Anne Elliot in Persuasion. On the other hand, were she to have married him, he would have been taken away to trial anyway, but then she would have gone with him and the scenes that follow could not have occurred.
We enter a very Clarissa sequence. The Marquis is now on the scene -- later we discover that he partly engineered the removal of Theodore. He is now determined to have sex with Adeline. Theodore is in fettered and Adeline locked in a room. This reminds me of Kenilworth. Only Amy Robsart is so foolish as to want to be locked in and then is lured to her death by a mere sound of the man she dreams is her lover-husband. Adeline struggles to escape but hears a scuffle outside; she is told someone is desperately wounded, and we hear through Adeline the compliant hostess's comment to others that Adeline is the Marquis's difficult wife (this is very Clarissa). Adeline faints (I forgot to mention her many faints; well, at least we see she doesn't run mad; she keeps her wits about her and doesn't lay down on the cold floor unnecessarily like some heroines I could mention) and wakes up to discover the wounded man is the Marquis. Theodore chained leg and all had attacked the Marquis with his sword.
The result of such an attack in this period could be death for Theodore, at a minimum a long prison sentence. In the next chapter we will see how everyone (even those inclined to help Theodore) must bow to the Marquis for he has power of imprisonment, of law over them. La Motte repeats this idea when Adeline brought back to the abbey (the pattern here recalls Clarissa brought back to the brothel).
So much for this week. I hope other people comment on this week's chapters too. If you've read any other of Radcliffe's books, feel free to bring them up. A Sicilian Romance is really a wild book where what we have here is speeded up to recur obsessively, sometimes one still graceful paragraph will have enough violence, sex, anxiety (chases, pursuits, labyrinths, landscapes) for a long book.
Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Romance of the Forest, Chs 13-14: LaMotte v the Marquis
I've read quite a lot of Romance of the Forest over the last couple of days and am now well into the third book, but for some reason I find it hard to concentrate - I keep on finding that I'm letting the emotions and descriptions of the scenery wash over me, stopping to enjoy all the interspersed lyrics, and losing track of the story. Does anyone else find the same? It may be because of that dream quality which the story has, or it may just be that I have only read a limited number of 18th/very early 19th-century novels and so find it harder to get to grips with the style and syntax than I would in a later 19th-century book.
Getting back to this week's chapters, I agree with Ellen that the conflict between the Marquis and La Motte is gripping. It's probably hard for us as modern readers to understand just how horrifying it was to be exposed as cheating at cards. I find it hard to understand how La Motte can consider committing far more serious crimes, handing the defenceless Adeline, whom it's his responsibility to protect, over to the Marquis and even considering murder, just in order to cover up his cheating. I suppose it's that idea of one crime relentlessly leading to another. At last, however, La Motte does resist and decide, belatedly, to save Adeline rather than betraying her as her father did.
My feeling is that the intensity and urgency of the narrative start to fall off in the third book after this climax, although this part has some beautiful descriptions to compensate.
All the best,
Radcliffe and Scott
I was very interested to hear this because I've now made a start on AN Wilson's The Laird of Abbotsford, which I'm enjoying very much, and I see he suggests that Radcliffe was an influence on Scott's poetry, for instance Marmion - he writes "In the second canto, which really does read like Mrs Radcliffe, Marmion's discarded mistress is walled up in the convent on Lindisfarne." I'm not sure whether that 'really' suggests a disparagement of Radcliffe - perhaps, but perhaps not, since Wilson strongly admires this canto, and sees Marmion as one of Scott's finest poems. He says Marmion is Scott's most outrageous hero' - he sounds as if he has quite a lot in common with the dark villain/heroes who Ellen wrote about. I haven't read all that much of Scott's poetry - I did read The Lay of the Last Minstrel, but found it hard to take it in, and should really reread it. I remember Thomas Hardy very much admired Marmion and thought it was one of the greatest poems in the language.
All the best,
Radclffe and Medieval French Romance: Chretien de Troyes
In a way Radcliffe's romances remind me of Chretien de Troyes: there too I could remember what I was reading as I read, but when I would get up from a point in the narrative I would often have a hard time saying what it was I just read. Everything blends into this indistinguishable repetitive dream. In Radcliffe's case the repetition is not paradigmatic, but in the details. She never tires of herself delineating yet another painting-picture and having her heroine or hero travel through it bit by bit. And she never goes deeper to give us an individual accent; maybe that's why Scott says she didn't see deeply into the human heart. She stays on the surface in a kind of ethical and emotional generality that provides little fresh content.
In Udolpho there's the same falling off in the equivalent of the fourth act. Shakespeare shows this too in a number of his plays. We reach a climax and then there's a lull before the action starts charging through once again.
It's slightly astonishing to read how overrated this or that text or picture or music can be in its period. Marmion the greatest of poems. But it was intensely popular in its time. It seemed to move into the primitive and yet was written in a pop learned style with acceptable sentiments.