Gothics, ghosts, and and l'écriture-femme

The Romance of the Forest

by Ann Ward Radcliffe

John Crome (1768-1821) Yarmouth Harbour

Romancing the Sea & Prison; John Crome and the Norwich School of Painters; French Debtors' Prison in the ancien régime


March 21, 2004

Re: Romance of the Forest, Chs 19-20: Romancing the Sea & Prison

Dear All,

I never got a chance to say how apt was Dagny's choice of Crome's Yarmouth Harbour for this week's chapters. The calm serenity of Crome's picture is matched in Radcliffe's opening sweep, with the difference that Adeline finds the intense relief her escape has given her allows her to release her pent-up emotions into tears. Radcliffe portrays the experience of intensity as one which leads to crying the more the more beautiful and still an aftermath interlude is. Imagine someone who has worked very hard, is exhausted, and then sits back to listen to beautiful music, and feels the comfort of it so that gratitude becomes physical. Adeline is also anguished because she compares what she remembers of the world and what Theodore is now looking forward to (prison, death) with what she feels as she glides through the beautiful waters. The tears are again a release, they relieve her. Here is just one part of one of the passages that open Chapter 19:

"She seemed to be more remote than ever from the possibility of hearing of him. Sometimes a faint hope crossed her that he had escaped the malice of his persecutor; but when she considered the inveteracy and power of the latter, and the heinous light in which the law regards an assault upon a superior officer, even this poor hope vanished, and left her to tears and anguish, such as this reverie, which began with a sensation of only gentle melancholy, now led to. She continued to muse till the moon arose from the bosom of the ocean, and shed her trembling lustre upon the waves, diffusing peace, and making silence more solemn; beaming a soft light on the white sails, and throwing upon the waters the tall shadow of the vessel, which now seemed to glide along unopposed by any current. Her tears had somewhat relieved the anguish of her mind, and she again reposed in placid melancholy, when a strain of such tender and entrancing sweetness stole on the silence of the hour ...

The experience is repeated just a few paragraphs later:

Often as she went she turned her eyes to catch between the dark foliage the blue waters of the bay, the white sail that flitted by, and the trembling gleam of the setting sun. When she reached the summit, and looked down over the dark tops of the woods on the wide and various prospect, she was seized with a kind of still rapture impossible to be expressed, and stood unconscious of the flight of time, till the sun had left the scene, and twilight threw its solemn shade upon the mountains. The sea alone reflected the fading splendor of the West; its tranquil surface was partially disturbed by the low wind that crept in tremulous lines along the waters whence rising to the woods, it shivered their light leaves, and died away ...

I presume many modern readers are like me and wish the verse away; it lacks any register of an inward process of grief, exhaustion (the word exhausted occurs a number of times in the prose connected to Adeline's state), any concrete objective correlative; its poetic diction seem simply unattached cliches.

At this point in the novel Radcliffe begins to connect up the threads of her mysteries. Louis La Motte turns up as an emissary from Theodore and we learn that Theodore is the son of La Luc. A bit much, but this is romance, fairy tale; at the close of Fielding's Joseph Andrews (as I recall dimly) the hero is discovered to have a strawberry on his arm and thus turns up to be the son and brother of someone; in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Figaro turns out to be the son of the Marquis's servants. Radcliffe presses on her disbelief too much perhaps because she is at the same time concerned to get us to take Theodore's imprisonment and execution seriously: in the next chapter she overdoes the crying, Theodore's courageous bravery in the face of a coming execution.

How far this kind of thing breaks the spell and mars our participation in the fiction probably depends on the individual. I find I don't mind discovering Theodore is La Luc's son as much as I mind the intensity exemplary emotions all the good characters are said to feel when they meet Theodore in prison. As with Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison I wish an editor had been able to pencil out (cut) the absurdities for then I could enter into the misery and fear and helplessness La Luc, Adeline, Theodore and Louis feel in the face of the Marquis's power. My feeling is Radcliffe expected the reader to know or to remember having been told what prison is like: people in debt were regularly thrown into prison; they had to pay for their keep; conditions were very bad; and the law was harsh on crimes against property, authority (desertion from the army was court martial -- not much different from today in that. One of the passages in Chapter 20 reminded me of similar passages in Charlotte Smith's Ethelinde where the heroine goes to join her father in debtor's prison:

"In a few minutes he was able to follow Louis, who led him through several dark passages, and up a flight of steps to a door, which being unbarred, disclosed to him the prison of his son. He was seated at a small table, on which stood a lamp that threw a feeble light across the place sufficient only to shew its desolation and wretchedness. When he perceived La Luc he sprung from his chair, and in the next moment was in his arms. "My father!" said he in a tremulous voice. "My son!" exclaimed La Luc; and they were for some time silent, and locked in each other's embrace. At length Theodore led him to the only chair the room afforded, and seating himself with Louis at the foot of the bed, had leisure to observe the ravages which illness and calamity had made on the features of his parent ..."

The intermixture of hectic overwrought behavior which assumes people respond by registering intense significance all the time won't do anymore.

I have a memory of reading on swiftly to get to the next chapter to find out whether Theodore would get a pardon, and then of course discovering that Pierre de La Motte's story was unwound and reading on with real interest. But I must hold that off for next week.

Cheers to all,

Date: Sun, 21 Mar 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] John Crome and the Norwich School of Painters

Perhaps people would like to know more about the romantic paintings of John Crome (1768-1821). He was one of a school of romantic landscape painters of the period who wanted to record the beauty of the local English worlds they lived in. I think Radcliffe would have known and probably liked their work; at any rate the feel of the period in which she writes includes just this sort of painting.

The Norwich School of Painters

A group of landscape painters established in Norwich, East Anglia, during the early part of the 19th Century.

The Norwich Society was founded at a meeting of the friends, pupils and patrons of John Crome, the landscape painter. Its purpose was 'An Enquiry into the Rise, Progress and present state of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture, with a view to point out the Best Methods of study to attain to Greater Perfection in these Arts.'

This group was strong but diverse. It was described as a school only because its leaders, John Crome and John Sell Cotman, operated in Norwich as teachers and drawing masters. Neither their own work, nor that of their pupils, displays a common style, though the artists established close personal and family links. While they concentrated for long periods on Norfolk scenery and life, they also visited and painted Wales and the Lake District, the Netherlands and northern France. They formed strong connections with colleagues at a national level, exhibited and sometimes lived in London, and were often at the forefront of contemporary artistic theory and taste. Even when regionally based, they were never provincial in outlook.

The Society held fortnightly meetings and discussions, and organized an Exhibition of 223 oil and watercolor paintings by 18 members in 1805. The show was a success, and the Exhibitions became an annual event, the first of their type outside London. John Crome was President of the Society, and in 1807, John Sell Cotman joined the group, and became Vice-President. The Norwich School was dominated by these two, and the members can to some extent be divided into those who followed Crome's realist manner, and those working in the more free style of Cotman, who was not above painting pictures of places he had not personally visited, working from other artists' sketches. The Norwich Society flourished through to the 1830s, when the Exhibitions faltered and ceased in 1833. They were revived in 1839, but never achieved the same success as previously. Crome had died in 1821, and Cotman died in 1842. Artists of the Norwich School continued working through to the 1880s.

The subjects of the Norwich School painters were typically landscapes, coasts and marine scenes from around Norwich and Norfolk. Rustic scenes were also popular. Often they combined old-master style colors with a closely observed realist observation of nature. The colors of the Norwich School pictures as they appear today are often more reddish-brown than originally, as apparently various of their colors, notably the indigo blue, faded or became red over time.

Works by most of the Norwich School may be seen in the Norwich Castle Museum. Crome and Cotman were big names and their work is distributed more widely. Three examples of the work of James Stark are in the Lady Lever Gallery, as well as works by Cotman and Crome, including his important English woodland scene Marlingford Grove (c.1815).

Artists of the Norwich School included:

John Crome (1768-1821) John Sell Cotman (1782-1842)
Henry Bright (1810-1873) Joseph Clover (1779-1853)
Samuel David Colkett (1800-1863) John Joseph Cotman (1814-1878)
Miles Edmund Cotman (1810-1858) John Berney Crome (1794-1842)
William Henry Crome (1806-c.1858) Revd. E. T. Daniell (1804-1843)
David Hodgson (1798-1864) Robert Ladbrooke (1770-1842)
John Berney Ladbrooke (1803-1879) Thomas Lound (1802-1861)
John Middleton (1827-1856) Henry Ninham (1754-1817)
Alfred Priest (1810-1850) James Sillett (1764-1840)
Alfred Stannard (1806-1889) Alfred George Stannard (1828-1885)
Joseph Stannard (1797-1830) James Stark (1794-1859)
John Thirtle (1777-1859)


John Crome (1768-1821) Moonlight

Date: Sun, 21 Mar 2004
From: Jim Chevallier
Subject: French debtors' prisons

Someone asked:

Did France in the eighteenth century have debtors' prisons comparable to those so familiar from England?

People were certainly sent to jail for debts, but, though there were specific statutes covering this sort of prisoner, I don't believe they were commonly held in separate prisons.

See Jousse' Traité de la justice criminelle de France
Tome II
p. 229 and ff
for specifics on how debtors were to be held in prison
(The work itself is basically a slightly more readable presentation of all the statutes that applied in 1771)

It's worth noting that incarceration as a stated punishment seemed exceptional (non- existent?) in Ancien Regime France overall. While lettres de cachet and even accusations could land somebody in the Bastille, Vincennes, Doullens, etc. for years or even life, I can't think of one actual legal penalty (and I've browsed many of them) that specifically sent someone to jail as a sentence in itself. If the condemned weren't killed, whipped and released, exiled or transported, they were more likely to be sent to the galleys than to be held for years in a prison.

Cold comfort, I know, to a satirist who ended up growing old - without a trial - in the Bastille, but worth bearing in mind. And I believe the idea behind imprisoning debtors was more in the nature of constraining them to pay their debts than to impose a punishment per se.

Jim Chevallier
North Hollywood, CA
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