Gothics, ghosts, and and l'écriture-femme

The Romance of the Forest

by Ann Ward Radcliffe

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840) Wanderer Above the Mist

The Happy Conclusion; The Heroine Pattern & Evasions; Leora Sherman's Ann Radcliffe and Gothic Romance: A Psychoanalytical Approach; Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces Applied to a Heroine; Those Blood-Soaken Dreams; Mocking the Visibilia; On making fun of it and the fawn; The Mesmerizing Style; Moral Lessons: ; Interesting Figures, Interesting Arguments; the good doctor


April 7, 2004

Re: The Romance of the Forest, The Happy Conclusion

Of course all ends happily. Adeline ends up Top Female and so too Theodore; they are placed in a benevolent community and beautiful landscape. The full-scale of the fairy tale may grate on the expectations and sense of reality in some readers; it does on mine. It hardly does to say in justification that novels are often fairy tales; even if they end tragically or poignantly or ironically, it is very hard for novelists to write fully of the everyday sordidness, cruelties, meannesses of human beings to one another. It is the rare novel which is not finally a sweetened perception of the experience of life, if only through the aesthetic patterning which confers meaning on the chance nature of experience. As I closed the book I was reminded of Austen's Emma where we are also given a benevolent community in a beautiful landscape; the ironic fillip of Mrs Elton through the narrator's reportage has its analogy in Radcliffe's use of Peter as Sancho Panza.

I also enjoyed the close: to me it is an expression of a traumatized sensibility which needs endlessly to recover from the trauma as the memory of it never goes away. So the presence seeks obsessive reiteration of calm, peace, retreat, beauty, and attempts to bring the reader into a circle of intense relief. Radcliffe's novels repeat this trajectory of utter lostness, separation, unexpected cruelties from those one might expect kindness and stability from; we go into a sequence of nightmare, torture, anxiety, murder, sexual threat continual and menacing, betrayals. In these sections the book's gothicism is found as symbolic expressions of grief and terror which despite all her adherence to "reason" and liberal Whig ideas of the period, Radcliffe intuits at the heart of life's experience. And then we get the recovery, often patched on, but no less relentlessly presented for all that.

A final way the historicizing reader may find interest here is in the conscious creation of a critique of the laws and customs of the ancien regime, of its typical family relationships -- in crisis, whatever altruistic motives one might have twisted into internecine familial war, utterly adversarial behaviors down to the use of lettres de cachet. This latter we will be shown at length by Diderot in his La Religieuse (The Nun).

Cheers to all,

To the above discussion I've again added material from an earlier discussion on EighteenthCenturyNovels@Yahoo at the same point.

To EighteenthCentury Novels

Re: Romance of the Forest: The Heroine Pattern & Evasions

February 3, 2001

Lisa asked if there were any loose ends we could talk about now that we've finished The R of F. Radcliffe certainly tried very hard to prevent this as she tied up every thread she had in a neat knot, normalised away and left all happy or properly buried by the end.

Still despite her efforts the reader is left with many intriguing qualms about what the book is about and its details. Take those bloody dreams at the close of Volume III: they didn't feel like mere dreams. Aysin asks about the sense we have of something strongly incestuous in the air between Adeline and her father-guardian figures, a pattern which is, as she says, repeated closely in The Italian.

Those who are interested in reading books on the gothic and Radcliffe -- and women's romance -- could do worse than buy Leora Sherman's Ann Radcliffe and Gothic Romance: A Psychoanalytical Approach. Despite the title, she writes in simple clear English and attempts to ferret out what the books are about really -- in terms of Radcliffe's psychic life. And why they appeal and began a type of book that is still very much with us. She doesn't see incest in Radcliffe's books so much as an unhealthy retreat from adult society with all its contradictory, anxiety-provoking demands.

Sherman argues that Radcliffe is unconscious of a variety of links attitudes which she expresses which focus on her relationship with her father, mother, and husband. These attitudes show she has not begun to think out her ambivalences towards her parents (hatred and fear, intense desire too); her depiction of her heroes suggest a reluctance to cope with aggressive males -- again a retreat into a childlike dream. She then goes on to talk of how Radcliffe's books live on in many romances today, and the appeal of such unanalysed paradigms for women readers in our difficult society today.

I hadn't noticed that proper burial motif before. It is important in numbers of Greek tragedies; it is important in Malory and Chretine. It occurs in Radcliffe's Sicilian Romance (a mother is buried) and in both Udolpho and The Italian the daughter buries a much abused maligned father properly at the end of a book which mixes nightmare and idylls.

Probably because I am just now teaching Greek tragedies in my classes and am soon to teach Arthurian romance, and have been thinking about the close analogies of the paradigms between these supposedly far-apart mythic materials I am suddenly struck by how Radcliffe's plotlines also repeat some of the archetypal motifs we meet in these primal heroic fantasies. I have before thought that she has created an late 18th century on age-old fairytale or faery material.

There's a book called A Hero with a 1000 Faces or something like that, and it's curious how all you need to do is transpose some of the outer details and change "hero" to "heroine" and you have an outline of Radcliffe's three famous romances:

Campbell's Hero Pattern applied to a Heroine:

(1) The hero’s mother is usually a royal virgin: our heroine is a virgin;
(2) His father is a king; her father is a marquis;
(3) often a near relative of his mother; in The Italian Schedoni is Ellena's brother-in-law;
(4) the circumstances of his conception are unusual; well of her childhood;
(5) he is also reputed to be the son of a god; these are all powerful males;
(6) At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather, to kill him; all three of Radcliffe's heroines are nearly killed or raped by their father-uncles;
(7) he is spirited away; so are the heroines; and
(8) reared by foster-parents in a far country; change it to convent:
(9) We are told nothing of his childhood; make that her;
(10) on reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
She goes to Switzerland and then takes over her property.
(11) After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast; ditto for all three books;
(12) he marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor; in this book she marries La Luc's son, La Luc who was a father to her, and
(13 ) becomes king; she becomes Marchioness.

The rest doesn't fit:

(14) For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
(15) prescribes laws, but
(16) later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
(17) he is driven from the throne and city, after which
(18) he meets with a mysterious death,
(19) often at the top of a hill.
(20) His children, if any, do not succeed him.
(21) His body is not buried, but nevertheless
(22) he has one or more holy sepulchres.

However, I am not alone in finding Radcliffe's happy endings meretricious and unconvincing. Her ending is at odds with her materials. She has taken up deep stuff, evaded, evaded, and evaded its deeper meanings by never giving us a detailed exposition of her heroine's inner thoughts (in the way Austen does); all we get is gazing at landscape, generalised feeling and exquisite archetypical magical images in poems. Then she runs away at the close, leaving the heroine (in effect) intact (pun intended)

Cheers to all
Ellen Moody

To Eighteenth-Century Novels

Re: The Romance of the Forest: Those Blood-Soaken Dreams

So how about this heroine's dreams?

Polly mentioned that Norton's theory about Radcliffe's younger life is that she was sexually abused by her father. One must read his biography to see the evidence: I disagree with one of his 'proofs', that she was removed from her parents' care in Bath, and think she grew up in Bath from age 8 to 23, with only occasional visits to the superrich uncle, but agree her fictions dwell on motifs of incest, maternal jealousy, transgressive S&M. There is a poignant line somewhere in this week's chapters about the pain one knows when someone you have loved and depended upon turns out to be the last person you can trust, your betrayer.

The nightmares are especially striking. There's nothing quite as strong as this -- all in one place -- even in Udolpho. It escapes the plot, and is never explained away. They are more than terrorizing. Why all this blood?

It's sexual. Deflowering. Having a baby. Violence inflicted.

Ellen Moody

To Eighteenth-Century Novels

R: Romance of the Forest: Mocking the Visibilia

What is so striking are the archetypes. Radcliffe hits very deep ones, mostly sexual and familial, but she does not forget the apparently cultural fearful power of money. She creates a mood of anxiety and sense of getting lost in some labyrinth that is startling. The descriptions are also beautiful.

It's easy to make fun of. The mockery began early with the reviewers whose recipe for a gothic I reprint here, only not to laugh at it, but to say it still works:


an old castle, half of it ruinous,
a long gallery, with a great many doors, some secret ones,
three murdered bodies, quite fresh,
as many skeletons, in chests and presses,
an old woman or man hanging by the neck, throat cut,
assasins, desperades, evil counts and noblemen (many),
noises, whispers, groans, strange music ...

To which I'll add, then head out for a lake or mountain, better yet get lost in a forest; go to sleep, get in there into the recesses of your mind real deep; then have someone startle you into wakefulness, preferably at midnight with a bell. Begin writing.

Sometimes I think it such a shame Freud and Jung seem never to have read Radcliffe.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Romance of the Forest: On making fun of it and the fawn: the Mesmerizing Style.

A while back (summarizing a segment of Vol I, Chapter 5), Lisa wrote:

Adeline ascends, and begins roaming the abbey. At first she sees nothing, but decides she must make a very thorough investigation so they're not unpleasantly surprised later. She investigates parts of the abbey she's not been in before, heart pounding.. In a moment straight out of Disney, she's approached by her favourite fawn, which she caresses.

Suddenly, the fawn startles, and Adeline looks up to see.. shudder.. a STRANGER! Adeline feels faint, and leans against a column, and the man approaches her, telling her he means her no harm.. He begins questioning her about La Motte. Adeline cannot bring herself to tell a lie, and both her answers and her silences give her away.. The STRANGER is convinced La Motte is somewhere in the abbey..

He resumes searching, then, suddenly, La Motte comes charging up through the trap door! The STRANGER is his SON! The La Mottes hug and pet their son, Louis, and then Louis relates to them how he came to find them. Then he tells them the news of the friends they've left behind in Paris. Louis tells them of a supernatural power, which protects the abbey. It is a GHOST!

What's supposed to stop the reader from mocking is the style. Radcliffe assumes mesmerizing and she has apparently succeeded with many reader. It used to be fashionable to call it stilted, but I don't find it so. Its grace and archaism are just right for her purpose.

To me the scene of the fawn is expressionist. Maybe I'm an innocent since I don't put on the TV and can't remember the last time I saw a Disney film. Maybe it was Fantasia one Xmas day in order to get through the time.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

To Eighteenth-Century Novels

Re: Romance of the Forest, Volume III: The Moral Lessons; Interesting Figures, Interesting Arguments; the good doctor

So many novels of this period present themselves as dramatizing lessons in bad and good education: e.g., Mansfield Park. Austen makes a point about the evil effects of over-indulgent education in the case of Willoughby in S&S and Darcy (who says he was brought up to be very proud) in P&P In Emma Miss Anna Taylor submitted to her pupil, Emma, instead of the other way round. And then Catherine Morland was nearly done in by too long a course of Radcliffes. There is nothing original or unique, nothing particularly 'conservative' or 'jacobin' in these paradigms: they are found from the middle novels of the 18th century (the heroine of Lennox's Female Quixote) into the nineteenth (Madame de Stael's Delphine).

The LaLucs serve a plot as well as thematic purpose: Radcliffe is concerned to show us that people when brought up virtuously in nature can turn out to be good. The underlying idea of the book is Rousseaustic in some ways: society and power corrupt. The idyll in Savoy is supposed to make us remember Rousseau's _La Nouvella Heloise_ (there is a 20th century paperback in English translation). The family of La Luc also eventually fit into the solution of the mysteries and characters whose histories are unexplained until the close of the book. I found the LaLuc section languid; there's no plot moving us forward; the poetry cries out for cutting -- at some point. But it's functional and was thought 'beautiful' by contemporaries. Think of Monseiur de Vermeuill as a Colonal Brandon figure: melancholy, disillusioned from his experience of the world.

A few more thoughts on Volume III and the ending.

In Savoy and Switzerland Adelina finds peace and safety with a Monsieur de Luc and his daughter, Clara. She writes poetry. The idyll comes to an end when de la Motte's son Louis finds her, brings news of Theodore whose companion in arms Louis has been, and it is discovered Theodore is Monsieur de Luc's son. Louis functions to knit the two groups of characters together. Everyone decamps to Paris where they find Pierre de la Motte in prison, Theodore on trial for his life. All is gloomy. No one will help them against the power of the marquis.

The first break in the story comes when Pierre de La Motte, having nothing to lose, finally tells his story, pp. 219-20, pp. 316-18 in the Oxford Classics paperback; the second comes when Madame de la Motte writes a letter which tells of the details of the case of Pierre de la Motte which affect the judgement to be meted out to Theodore as they reveal the crimes of Montalt to all, pp. 329-330. The rest of the sordid history which explains it all is to be found on pp. 332-34; 337-38; 339-342. Note that like Austen's _Sense and Sensibility & Persuasion, The Romance of the Forest depends upon flashbacks which bring us back to another generation and are told to us in histories or letters.

The deep truth beneath the manuscript:

Philippe de Montalt is the younger brother of Adeline's father who was the eldest son, the heir, and hence the real Marquis, rich and powerful by inheritance. His name was Henri. But he was not strong, cunning, aggressive, and amoral. Montalt had his older brother captured, bullied, tortured and then murdered. He first tried to make Adeline his mistress; when he instructed Pierre to kill her, he had found out who she is. The man in the manuscript was Adeline's real father who was tortured and then murdered. The man who Adeline thought her father was not her father, but one D'Aunoy an apparently ruthless mercenary; his brother, Du Bosse was the man who forced Adeline upon Pierre de la Motte. Pierre was terrified of the Marquis because it appears in his desperation for money (his misspent youth appears on pp. 219-2), during his roaming at the Abbey he attempted to murder a chevalier, this man was Montalt whose servants defended him (pp. 316-17). Thus when La Motte was so startled at the appearance of the Marquis and clearly afraid of him and angry at his wife, it was that the Marquis could by that point accuse him of attempted murder (there were witnesses).

So now we have it all: I don't think the earlier novel is at all vitiated by this explanation: it makes it persuasive on a Freudian, cynical level about what people are.

Interesting figures: above all, Pierre de la Motte, then the Marquis; also M. Verneuil. La Luc is an exemplary sentimental Villars; Clara a sentimental heroine, a Marianne with no passion, typical of Marmontel shepherdesses. Theodore is (I'm afraid) the emasculated male. Madame de La Motte is also interesting: the woman cowed by her husband, seething, jealous, yet at the end just.

Interesting arguments: against capital punishment; obviously against the injustice of the ancien regime.

I liked the doctor who told the truth but was afraid of the Marquis. I am drawn to all melancholy figures. I liked some of the poetry and descriptions of Savoy.

The book to me opens up a veins of emotion via Adeline, la Motte, and the descriptions which is today more avoided than ever -- more denied but just as real in people's psyches.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

William Edward Milner (Victorian painter) The Romantic Dreamer

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