Gothics, ghosts, and and l'écriture-femme

The Romance of the Forest

by Ann Ward Radcliffe

Claude Jospeph Vernet (1714-89) The Waterfalls at Tivoli

Escape, Inset Novella (Clara's story, a Marmontel-like tale, Imprisonment; Beautiful Descriptoins; Centrality of the Feminine, Edinburgh & Subversive Castles


March 7, 2004

Re: The Romance of the Forest, Chs 15-16: Escape, Inset Novella (Clara's story, a Marmontel-like tale, Imprisonment

Scott's satire of romance conventions provides a lead-in for this week's posting, e.g., "I join with my honest friend Crabbe, and have an unlucky propensity to hope, when hope is lost, and to rely upon the cork-jacket, which carries the heroes of romance safe through all the billows of affliction.'

Both our hero and heroine have been afflicted by strong fevers; our villain-hero sliced through by our hero's sword, and all have risen again to go through yet more chapters. Once our heroine simply walked out the window to escape the villain; now she is helped by the villain's accomplice who was originally her companion-protector. How lucky that Peter has relatives in Savoy, and the Marquis conveniently leaves for a day, and a boat is easily enough procured for Adeline and Peter so they sail away, and soon find themselves surrounded by good people who help Adeline recover from yet another illness, all while the reader is treated to an inset novella.

Of course this is not quite fair to Radcliffe's novel. By quoting Scott one can see how these romance-novels do share remarkably alike paradigms and these repeat almost across the centuries (I found a close parallel the other day between Cottin's Amelia Mansfield and Trollope's The Duke's Children), and yet when you have identified these tropes you have said nothing of the quality of the novel or what it means. This week's chapters include some of the strongest writing in the book, to wit, the Marquis's sudden coming back, demanding that Peter La Motte murder Adeline, and La Motte's long struggle against a sore temptation to do as he is bid. His entry into Adeline's room ("His hand shook so violently, when he attempted to unlock the door ..."), the scene where he looks down at her bed) follows the earlier conversation with Adeline so no talk is needed. In that one she did not not abase herself. In this scene she is direct and simple: "O save me ...". Radcliffe's heroines are a hardier prouder lot than they are often given credit for being.

There is a contrast between Adeline's deep melancholy and depression, her bleakness -- as after all who has she in the world, a wanderer -- and the sudden upsurge of cheer and hope as she comes into Rousseau territory. The trip to Savoy, the rejuvenation, the goodness of the people not corrupted by court and city society are all Rousseau themes. The billow carries us to another world where natural passions are not all twisted, cunning, aggressive, erotic in a devouring way, but kind, loving, gentle, friendly, calm. This book's message is not that we must repress passion, for we see in this part of the book how passion when controlled and shaped is the source of beauty and goodness. The quoted poem in the section ("But half mankind ...") shows that Radcliffe was conscious of this theme.

The story of Clara might have been identified by 18th century readers as Marmontel stuff. Marmontel wrote pastoral or idyllic contes with little moral lessons in them. Clara learns to control her love of music and art, to keep them in their place. Some of this would be easy to mock as when Clara busies herself about her flowers, but I liked the good feeling of the section, is concision and grace, and also the poignant elements and as ever the description. Madame La Luc is dead -- very common in Radcliffe for the mother to be dead. There's a Proustian element in The Mysteries of Udolpho: its slowness, the lavish descriptoin, the valuing of the moment and memory. La Luc we are told often retires to the solitude of the mountains to brood over "the remembrance of things past." This is Moncrief rather than Proust but the two phrases (Proust's title translates literally into "In Search of Lost Time") connect.

Finally, the hardness of Pierre La Motte's fate. The Marquis returns and does not believe La Motte's account of Adeline's escape. La Motte is arrested (we are told "terror now deprived all power of resistance") and taken away. The "extreme distress" of Madame leads the Marquis to procure a carriage for her that she might accompany her husband to prison. Radcliffe expects the reader knows something of the terrible conditions of prisons and lettres de cachet.

Cheers to all,

Date: Mon, 08 Mar 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest, Chs 15-16

Ellen wrote:

Once our heroine simply walked out the window to escape the villain; now she is helped by the villain's accomplice who was originally her companion-protector. How lucky that Peter has relatives in Savoy . . .

This is my first read of The Romance of the Forest but I see trouble ahead yet for Adeline and probably Peter also for helping her. Surely the Marquis has power enough to discover Peter's origins and have them sought for in Savoy. Adeline has to recover, but she shouldn't linger too long in that neighborhood, regardless of how idyllic it is.

This week's chapters include some of the strongest writing in the book, to wit, the Marquis's sudden coming back, demanding that Peter La Motte murder Adeline

This came as a total surprise to me. Do you think it was because the Marquis felt humiliated by Adeline's refusal of him?


Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest, Chs 15-16

IN response to Dagny,

The first time I read the book, this turnabout was indeed startling. I can't give away why as that would tell the ending.

It is one place in the book where I think the first reading is not so cliched (or imitated since) that you can readily guess why. On the second reading, it does fall into place. Then all sorts of things that have been mysteries and unexplained as we went along are explained. Rather like Emma in this except in Emma we don't realize we are being shown inexplicable details since Emma either herself only observes and doesn't remark on them or provides a wrong explanation.


March 9, 2004

Re: Romance of the Forest: Inset novella

I was very surprised by this little inset novella, but also enjoyed it. I can see there is the heavy moral that the young woman must learn to busy herself about her chores and keep music in its place, but still the thing that comes across most strongly is that love of music and the yearning to play the lute.

I liked the fact that Clara is in the end not required to give up the lute after all - although it's a pity that it has to be her father who makes this decision and hands it back, after she has decided she is willing to relinquish it. This reminded me that the main heroine, Adeline, is also portrayed as an artist, with the interspersed poems she makes up and recites in the wild romantic areas in between the faster-moving sections of the plot.

I also agree the descriptions here are beautiful.

All the best,

Re: Centrality of the Feminine, Edinburgh & Subversive Castles

I'm reading in superb French books, one enormous and the other slender. The enormous one is often-quoted in literary studies which include the French or European novel of the 18th century: Pierre Fauchery's La Destinee Feminine Dans le Roman Europeen du Dix-Huitieme Siecle (I omit accents).

I assumed that this might in fact be a kind of compendium of (in effect) common sense and perceptive observations about women in the century and in novels. It's clearly going to be that, but he has a thesis which is interesting and somewhat iconoclastic nowadays. He argues that the 18th century is one where we see a "reign" of women in a number of areas of social life which had not so much as been common before but become prevalent: not just salons, but a good deal of new kinds of daily cultural life swirls around activities women are centrally involved in. This is accompanied by women becoming central in the novel and staying central until the about 1830. Women also begin to write in large numbers, and they write novels. Not only this but they write them using narrators who are clearly women and meant to project a woman's point of view, to investigate and dramatize it. He proposes to investigate the novel from the point of view of what a subjectivity which is feminine does to our perception of experience, how this determines what the content of the novel will be, and how it affects social life and has left what seems to be a permanent legacy of archetypes in our cultural lives today. He links this to the lives of women in the period. Fauchery argues further that the 18th century novel led to the novel becoming primarily (well the serious novel) an odyssey through sexual conciousness and the unconscious; a way of expressing the spontaneous inner movement (through its images and dramas and internal meditations) the dreaming mind. The flexibility and plasticity and emphasis on small things, on "realism" of life (not great events) also comes from its roots in women's lives. Proust, Dorothy Richardson, Powell would be three culminations of this in the 20th century.

An important element in the striking originality of The Romance of the Forest is the feminine point of view that shapes everything we experience and lies at the heart of Radcliffe's art. Thus far on our list we've read Edgeworth's Belinda, Stael's Delphine, Lee's Recess; several of the novels by males we've read and discussed are dominated by women or an "effeminized" (the Waverley) male (e.g., Kenilworth: Amy Robsart, Elizabeth I is the world-historical figure, Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa). I look forward to Diderot's The Nun for what it's going to reveal. It's true that Radcliffe is intensely sympathetic to art in her book, and she seems to work towards the civilized and moral, but she is equally drawn to the De Sadean point of view, to obsessive repetition of primal scenes, to coming near orgasmic ecstasy (which she does hit once in a poem near the scene of Marquis and Adeline in the pavilion). Clara's story is emblem-like because Radcliffe doesn't let go.

By chance there's a review of John Buchan's new book on Edinburgh by John Brewer in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books: Crowded With Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind. Brewer recommends Buchan's book strongly as a depiction of Edinburgh's transformation from the medieval Edinburgh we glimpse in Guy Mannering to the one Scott participated in. Among the elements Buchan points out that changed Edinburgh was the moving to the center of the culture of women. Brewer argues against this, and says the networks and clubs, the enlightenment important figures are all men, but against this Fauchery and those who research salon culture would point to the importance of women as facilitators and changers of the climate of thought, of the perspective one takes on life, as well as slowly becoming writers and artists themselves.

The other book I've begun, the slender one is by Annie Le Brun; it's called Les Chateaux de la subversion (Castles of Subversion). This is very stimulating reading and provides a real alternative to the prudential moralistic readings of novels, gossiping about characters and justifications or critiques of books by resorts to standards of realism that are still common. Her book is a defense of romance, of idealism, of the strong element of fantasy in novels, and also of their amorality and ambiguous pleasures. With respect to the gothic, she makes the point of how central the castle really is; how it is often looms over a cliff. She inveighs against the reign of so-called probability (in fact in life the improbable often happens) and realisms and those do not allow the reader and writer to escape the diurnal and apparent "order of things" in life. She attacks Balzac's books front-on as shutting the door to original thought and change by insisting that there is only the triumphant bourgeois, no other choices in life. This brand of "realism" takes up all space. She then goes on to show how unreal this brand of realism really is, and how so-called realistic books are as much a dream product of the mind of the author (or nightmare) as are gothic romances. Radcliffe is a central presence in her book. She seems to want to argue that the "roman noir" of the later 18th century in France and the now often ignored or derided sentimental novel by women come into our culture through a back door (films for example). I probably haven't done justice to her argument since it proceeds by perception assertions of the kind it's hard to reproduce. She's a very Bachelard kind of writer.

It seems to me that Radcliffe's original contribution to the novel is her dream landscape, the Abbey, the dungeon, the obsurity, her letting go of her mind to let her dreams reign and her imagining beautiful places from pictures, also her action scenes seen from a distance. She brought poetry into the novel. I've wondered how much or which French novels she read. Obviously she has read Prevost and Rousseau, but who else? LaClos? Which French women writers? She was read and translated by them. She's also read Charlotte Smith and probably The Recess.

A few thoughts from my reading,


Claude Jospeph Vernet (1714-89) Vue d'une cascade particolare

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