Gothics, ghosts, and and l'écriture-femme

The Romance of the Forest

by Ann Ward Radcliffe

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840), Man and Woman Gazing at the Moon (1819)

A Series of Nightmares; Legends about Ann Radcliffe; Walpole and Nightmare; Adeline's Three Nightmares; A Series of Nightmares; Alienation and Scrutiny; The Waterfalls at Tivoli, 1737 by Vernet; Why does the novel no longer scare us?; "Prisons" by Piranesi and Reader Responses


February 8, 2004

Re: The Romance of the Forest: I:6-7: A Series of Nightmares

The idyllic retreat of our characters (and in a way it is) is broken in upon by the arrival of the Marquis Philippe de Montalt: he is very powerful man who owns the Abbey; as a figure who represents the top echelon of the ancien régime, he is very powerful.. With him is the handsome young Chevalier Adeline had glimpsed before. This novel catches the sexual act in its gazing.

The two men argue apart; the women don't know what about. It seems that La Motte is beholden to the Marquis for something; the argument causes great tension, and Pierre de La Motte is in extreme distress. His stress reintensifies the stress of the women about him, and all this stress results in bad nights and finally the three dreams which climax this volume.

The males are all attracted to Adeline: Theodore, Louis and the Marquis. La Motte finds himself in the position of protector.

The dreams are startling in their sexual implications. On the one hand, we should try to remember that Ann Radcliffe had not read Freud; on the other, in her choice of epigraphs in her Italian from Walpole's Mysterious Mother at least some portion of Radcliffe's mind recognized or kept returning to dramatizations of intimate incestuous love. It's not only Adeline who is subject to these terrors; Pierre de la Motte is too.

There is this peculiar emphasis: a bed. It has been suggested that beds in Radcliffe are places of anguish, of questioning, of self-destruction and despair. In Udolpho we find long sequences leading into the death of a close relative upon whom Emily depends (her father, her aunt); the famous wax figure is lying on a bed. The style and inward movement combinewith elegance and carefully put together sequences of sentences which move inwardly. The feel we get Radcliffe is telling us about psychological experiences she knows intimately and concretely:

She soon lost her recollection, but it was only to fall into harrassed slumbers, such as but too often haunt the couch of the unhappy. At length her perturbed fancy suggested the following dream.

She thought she was in a large old chamber belonging to the abbey, more ancient and desolate, though in part furnished, than any she had yet seen. It was strongly barricadoed, yet no person appeared. While she stood musing and surveying the apartment, she heard a low voice call her, and, looking towards the place whence it came, she perceived by the dim light of a lamp a figure stretched on a bed that lay on the floor. The voice called again, and, approaching the bed, she distinctly saw the features of a man who appeared to be dying. A ghastly paleness overspread his countenance, yet there was an expression of mildness and dignity in it, which strongly interested her.

While she looked on him, his features changed and seemed convulsed in the agonies of death. The spectacle shocked her, and she started back, but he suddenly stretched forth his hand, and seizing her's, grasped it with violence: she struggled in terror to disengage herself, and again looking on his face, saw a man, who appeared to be about thirty, with the same features, but in full health, and of a most benign countenance ..."

As Volume I ends on the sequence of dreams that terrorize Adeline, we have had put in place enough for 10 volumes to decipher. We have met the La Mottes, Adeline, the Marquis, Louis, Theodore. We have been told a strange story of a father which doesn't quite make sense. Nor do Pierre de La Motte's divagations. Now we wonder about La Motte's relationship to the Duke and what will flow from this. Who was in the dungeon?

There is more to the details of the characters, stories, and imagey. Let me invite others to add to what I have omitted in this vein.

Re: Radcliffe and the Gothic, Levy's Historical Approach

Before we get carried away on the streams of blood, coffin, and movements of a tender frantic man which flow from Adeline's nightmares, I thought I'd say something more about Maurice Levy's introduction to the 1797 French translation of Mysteries of Udolpho.

Levy begins with the historical approach to the gothic and Radcliffe's achievement. A while back on this list someone asked for books on the gothic which took the historical approach instead of the psychoanalytical, and I was hard put to name one, except Maurice Levy's Le roman gothic anglais 1764-1824. The problem was Levy's book is in French and it has not been translated. He takes the same approach to Radcliffe's Udolpho for about 1/2 of his essay and the results justify him.

He says that the historical approach is important because the psychoanalytical leads to an ever proliferating ambiguous sense of what gothic is. Soon all will be gothic. By zeroing in on what Radcliffe's contemporaries thought of as gothic he ends up with a limitable number of texts.

Doing this he is able to offer ways of discussing Radcliffe which turn her into a conscious artist, manipulating tropes, attitudes, and plot-designs to her purposes. She has a set of conventions she can turn to; she may endow them with a peculiar force all her own, but the set of conventions are there and important to many readers.

He outlines different sets of materials coming in at Radcliffe. First the paraphernalia of the gothic as first brought together in Walpole's Otranto and given deep melancholy mood in Sophia Lee's Recess. This is a sine qua non. For example, the whole ambiance of what happens, the events themselves take their form and shape by happening in an old castle. He then turns to Burke's treatise on the sublime and picturesque. Radcliffe's way of approaching landscape so closely recalls Burke that it seems she learnt her original effects by following Burke's advice. Gilpin comes in here. The drama of the period and before (which Radcliffe read), the pictures (Salvador Rosas, the Wrights we've seen here) -- all gave Radcliffe the stuff she uses to make her dark fairy visions, even in Venice.

His method does much better with Udolpho and The Italian where Radcliffe is elaborating consciously from her reading and art. Udolpho is the sublime picturesque book; The Italian has more politics against the church and real panache in conducting its fearful sequences. Romance of the Forest seems not to need such apparatus; we can see (so we think) what is happening here immediately. Don't obscure it. I'm not so sure. Adeline is helpless and frozen before the powerful Montalt. There is as much anti-ancien regime satire in R of F as the other two novels. The last sequence of the book is Rousseauist; she is asking herself what happens to human beings when they are cut off from their society. It's very dangerous or debilitating or degrading.

Last comment for tonight: this time through I am very aware of Madame de La Motte. She is in conflicts over her husband's behavior, yet she is not his "friend" in a true sense at all. character. It was not thought necessary to dramatize scenes in the later 18th century. Many were content to describe. I've an idea Austen never noticed she never gave Colonel Brandon a word to say in direct speech in her S&S. So because we don't get a great deal of dialogue from Madame does not make her a stick figure. Racliffe offers original astute analysis of her through her use of the narrator. I feel for Madame de La Motte as I did for the aunt in Udolpho who married and was murdered by Montoni.

Cheers to all,

Date: Sat, 07 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Legends about Ann Radcliffe

During the time she was writing her novels, and especially after the success of Udolpho, Radcliffe was not only the subject of much praise, her novels turned into plays, translated, and herself a rare recipient of high prices for her work, she was also much ridiculed as were her books. The chorus grew much worse when she fell silent after The Italian (1797): people said she was mad, imprisoned, and more gently, had had a breakdown of some sort. She never answered any of this in her life; her husband strictly controlled her first biographer, Talfourd who tried to scotch these rumors by saying they hadn't an ounce of truth and by producing documents signed by doctors to the effect she was totally sane and in sound mind for all of her life and died of a pulmonary disease.

This is to introduce something I've just come across and was alerted to because on C18-l someone was asking for what has been written about the way authors set themselves to write -- inspire or drive themselves, the conditions they preferred &c&c. According to Maurice Lévy in his introduction to the recent Gallimard edition of the 1797 French translaton of Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho by Victorine de Chastenay (which I count myself very lucky to have bought), a legend circulated about Ann Radcliffe that she fed on slabs of raw beef in order to induce voluntary nightmares in herself ("avant de composer ses scènes les plus terrifiantes, elle ingurgitait des tranches de boeuf cru pour se donner de volontaires cauchemars"); he quotes the same source of this legend (a book on Bernard Taylor by R. C. Beatty) to the effect that legend had it Byron consumed so much gin to write Don Juan that the pages of the book smelt from this.

When I read things like this, I know why she fell silent.

I hope to write about the three nightmares with which Volume I of The Romance of the Forest concludes by tomorrow evening; however, if someone would like to beat me to it, please go ahead :)


Date: Sun, 08 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Walpole and Nightmares
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1

Ellen wrote:

"I hope to write about the three nightmares"

Yes please, I have been looking forward to that. Page 108-110 Dreams What was the meaning of dreams before Freud and all that?

Ann Radcliffe was born the year Walpole's The Castle of Otranto was published, (1764). About his novel Horace Walpole wrote:

"I waked one morning at the beginning of last June from a dream, of which all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story) and that on the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic arm in armour".


Date: Mon, 09 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest: I:6-7: A Series of Nightmares

It's no wonder Adeline is having nightmares.

Leaving aside her experience at the hands of her father, there is Theodore warning her she is in danger and then not turning up at the assignation to give her details. Then, too, Louis, has had to return to his regiment and is at risk, as possibly are Monsieur and Madame La Motte.

Adeline did some growing up in this chapter in that she begins to become aware of how people feel about her and how they see her. Except, of course, she can't figure out Madame La Motte's seemingly changeable attitude towards her.


Re: Romance of the Forest, Three Nightmares

In response to Susanne, I know I didn't explicate the nightmares in any detail, because I thought the Freudianism obvious; it would take too long an email; and it has been done by other critics. A famous one is C. Kahane, "The Gothic Mirror" in _The (M)other Tongue, Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytical Interpretation; even better is Kenneth Graham's "Emily's Demon-Lover: The Gothic Revolution and The Mysteries of Udolpho in Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/ Transgression. In brief, the man in the bed is her father and she is losing her virginity to him; sex is a form of death; the labyrinth Emily runs through, ever more obscure is her own body, feminine space, which is being invaded, which she is retreating into. The heroine is allured and terrified by violent sex. In her daylight hours she is surrounded by no less than 4 men, and there were 2 earlier terrifying ones. They all want her. She can't lock her room from the outside, only the inside. On the surface all chastity, prudery, puritanism; in the depths, desire but also horror and fear.

On the level of the world's violence, the vulnerable sensitive tender man was destroyed by the mean and tough, and this Adeline instinctly feels is a fate awaiting her unless she gets some protector (preferably male; she does not want to be intimated into the death-in-life and seething private politics of a convent). The nightmares envisage this too.

And on the level of the story, as Dagny says, there is plenty for Adeline to experience dreams of intense anxiety.


Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest: I:6-7: A Series of Nightmares

Ellen Moody wrote:

The males are all attracted to Adeline: Theodore, Louis and the Marquis. La Motte finds himself in the position of protector.

Yes, this struck me, too. This innocent (Radcliffe keeps stressing this quality) girl is intensely desirable. To see her is to want her.

I was struck as I read this week's portion, especially chapter 6, by how isolated these characters are, not just from the world, in their mysterious forest retreat, but from each other. One might think that, cut off as they are from other ties and supports, they might turn the more strongly toward each other, but they don't. Nobody turns to anyone else, nobody talks to anyone else, not really. Louis loves Adeline, but she doesn't notice until forced to. La Motte is troubled and depressed, and goes off by himself into the forest. Madame La Motte wants to know what is going on with her husband but he refuses to tell her, and is jealous and resentful of Adeline but won't say why. There are constant references to their reluctance to talk to one another, to say what's really on their minds and hearts. Horror, fear, sadness, depression, worry, jealousy: all produce more silence and more disconnection. When La Motte recognises the Marquis, he cannot speak:

"The horror of his countenance, together with his whole behaviour, excited the utmost surprise in Madame, whose eyes inquired of the Marquis more than he thought proper to answer: his looks increased, instead of explaining the mystery, and expressed a mixture of emotions, which she could not analyse. Meanwhile, she endeavoured to soothe and revive her husband, but he repressed her efforts, and, averting his face, covered it with his hands (89).

After their talk, which Madame can overhear only in disconnected fragments, more silence:

"La Motte observed a sullen silence, frequently pacing the room with hasty steps, ad sometimes lost in reverie. Meanwhile, the Marquis, seating himself by Adeline, directed to her his whole attention, except when sudden fits of absence came over his mind and suspended him in silence: at these times the young Chevalier addressed Adeline, who, with diffidence and some agitation, shrunk from the observance of both" (90).

When Madame tries to find out what is troubling her husband, he commands her to be silent: "'Ask me no questions,' said La Motte sternly, 'for I will answer none. I have already forbade your speaking to me on this subject'" (91). He resents her attempts to talk to him: "And why should you either suspect or inquire? [as if she hadn't good reason to do both!] Am I always to be persecuted with conjectures?" (91). Her frantic appeals for the "privilege of a wife ... [to] share the affliction which oppresses you," are repulsed as intrusive: "Whatever may be the cause of the emotions which you have witnessed, I swear that I wil not now reveal it. ... Bury your surmise in your own bosom, as you would avoid my curse and my destruction" (91).

Madame watches him silently, Adeline watches both of them, Louis watches all three, and no one can do anything to relieve that essential isolation and aloneness that separates them. Louis follows his father into the forest, "lost in a chaos of conjecture concerning this affair" (94). When he finally asks his father what's wrong, La Motte brutally condemns him to silence:

"I have already answered you on this subject, and forbad you to renew it. I am now obliged to tell you, I care not how soon you depart, if I am to be subjected to these inquiries" (96).

These people don't talk, but they watch each other all the time. Without verbal communication and answers to questions, they are forced to rely on interpretation-- what do I read in his/her behaviour, face, gestures?--and they interpret things wrongly because they haven't enough information to interpret more accurately. They are even unaware of, cut off from, themselves.

"Adeline blushed, and endeavouring to reply, her lips faultered. Conscious of her this agitation, and of the observance of Madame La Motte, her confusion increased, and her endeavours to suppress served only to heighten it. Still she tried to renew the discourse, and still she found it impossible to collect her thoughts. Shocked lest Madame should apprehend the sentiment, which had till this moment been concealed almost from herself, her colour fled, she fixed her eyes on the ground, and, for some time, found it difficult to respire" (93). Adeline "withdrew to the indulgence of her own thoughts" (94).

They are as alienated from themselves and from each other as they are from the world.


Re: Romance of the Forest: Alienation and Scrutiny

Leslie's analysis of the guarded isolation of Radcliffe's characters and all of their scrutiny of one another and of Adeline is compelling.

In the now somewhat well-known (but alas out of print and hard to find), anthology of essays edited by J. Fleenor and called The Female Gothic, there's an essay where the critic argues that intense scrutiny of the faces and nuances of those around her, characterizes the female gothic up until today. The female hero spends her day scrutinizing those around her. As I recall DuMaurier's Rebecca, this is the way the second Mrs de Winter spends her days. The critic who wrote this essay suggested this is a heightened projection of the way a woman at home might overread all that's going on around her, especially if she is dependent on the man who goes out and comes in from the world outside and doesn't tell her much, or anything.

Madame de La Motte's marriage to Pierre de la Motte is not one where the male expected companionate marriage. This is perhaps another depiction of human alienation the ancien regime customs created.


Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Radcliffe and Pictured Places/Home Page

One of the artists Ellen mentioned that Radcliffe studied was Joseph Vernet.

Our Home Page Picture is now The Waterfalls at Tivoli, 1737, by Joseph Vernet (1714 - 1789).

We will feature Piranesi next.


Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Waterfalls at Tivoli, 1737 by Vernet

Dagny and all,

Is not that striking? And even more I feel I am suddenly looking at what Radcliffe described in The Italian. There is a long exciting brilliantly described escape from a convent by the hero and heroine in a landscape that is precisely the one we are gazing at here.

The painting is very beautiful.

Levy's right. He mentioned a very different painting, Midday, a Ship Off Shore, Foundering in a Storm as depicting precisely the scene we see Emily in as she floats along in a ship by Languedoc.


Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Romance of the Forest: Alienation and Scrutiny

On 10 Feb 2004, at 7:57 PM, Ellen Moody wrote:

The female hero spends her day scrutinizing those around her. As I recall DuMaurier's Rebecca, this is the way the second Mrs de Winter spends her days. The critic who wrote this essay suggested this is a heightened projection of the way a woman at home might overread all that's going on around her, especially if she is dependent on the man who goes out and comes in from the world outside and doesn't tell her much, or anything.

Overread, misread, underread: it is all about reading, isn't it? But it's all or mostly nonverbal reading, because they talk very little, at least not about what matters. They have to read faces, gestures, bodies, behaviour, because words are so little used.

Madame de La Motte's marriage to Pierre de la Motte is not one where the male expected companionate marriage. This is perhaps another depiction of human alienation the ancien regime customs created.

But Madame seems at time to want that sort of marriage, doesn't she? With her pleading for him to talk to her, to include her, to grant her the privilege of a wife. Perhaps part of what's going on here is a transition between different conceptions of marriage, between the older more functional/pragmatic view (marriage is for position, family advancement, etc) and newer ideas of companionate marriage (especially wanted by women, who are forced to invest so much more of themselves in marriage and other family relationships). As I point out to my students when I teach Austen, this is a period when older ideas of marriage are under a lot of pressure, and novels are part of that negotiation. Students always want to condemn Charlotte Lucas, to see her as simply mercenary, and refuse to see any good reason for her to marry the odious Mr Collins--although some students from other cultures with less romantic/companionate views of marriage and/or fewer options for unmarried women are more sympathetic to her--but Austen knows exactly why Charlotte makes the choice she does, even though she is far more personally sympathetic to Elizabeth's preference for companionate marriage (sorry for the diversion into Austen--always too tempting--and she is beginning to write just at this time!). But companionate marriage only works (and not always then, as our divorce rates attest!) when both partners want it. Madame seems to want it, at least some of the time, and Adeline wants it, although she's so busy denying and blocking out her attraction to Theodore that she can't even think that far; fortunately for her, both Louis (whom she doesn't want as a marriage partner, although she likes him) and Theodore seem examples of the newer man, who wants a more modern, companionate marriage, unlike La Motte, who, as Ellen says, refuses to play that role.


Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Why does the novel no longer scare us?

My feeling is Radcliffe's books no longer do do this. The interesting question to answer would be, Why not?

Having finished this book now, I would say it was too predictable from a 21st century viewpoint. At this stage we know what's going to happen very early on in the book, I doubt that 18th century readers felt the same way. They didn't have the background of reading that we have. I'd also say that there is so much inserting of (to me) ridiculous phraseology of the conventions necessary for gothic writing that one tends to get lost in them. There is also of course for us today all the footnotes that made it even worse for me by explaining all this. I think a good story should flow and have unpredictable endings, this kind of writing can't have that for me because it's still too early in this genre. It's too bad I couldn't have read this book when I was 15 or 16, I might have a different impression.


Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Home Page: Carceri V by Piranesi

Hello all,

Dagny wrote:

On our home page now is Carceri V by Piranesi (1720-1778), another of the artists Ellen mentioned in connection with Ann Radcliffe.

This is a stunning picture, Dagny - many thanks for posting it, and also to Ellen for mentioning the connection. I think Piranesi is also one of the artists discussed by de Stael in 'Corinne' - this reminds me, I see you have 'Delphine', which I'm still finishing, coming up over on FrenchLiterature and I'm sure people there will enjoy it too.

I've been dashing about a lot this week so haven't had much time to post but am enjoying both the Radcliffe and the Scott very much and will hope to catch up with things this weekend.


Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] "Prisons" by Piranesi and Reader Responses Reply-To:

This is a response to Dagny, Judy, and Joan:

Since the picture is before us in a small version and framed by our group site it's not as impressive as it might be were we to see it in its real size (much larger) and without the domesticating framework. I thought Judy might like it.

It does give me a chance to respond to Joan's comment. If one looks at Piranesi perhaps it can bring home to the reader what the eighteenth century reader visualized as he or she was reading Radcliffe. It is just such a picture she meant us to see or was half-glimpsing herself.

Nonetheless, for many this novel might creak -- as for most of us Piranesi and Goya's nightmares are not the ones we have in our minds when we become terrified. We think of nuclear war; we think of the intense brutality and ferocity of modern warfare; we think of groups of powerful men and their armies -- it's not a matter of bats and sexualized dark villains but men in suits surrounded by men with huge machineguns and slave-labour camps where people are tortured, worked and starved to death. Our visibilia for terror have changed. So we have to make an act of the historical imagination.

Even then, it's hard for any book to begin to compete with today's films, theatre, and since Freud and the remarkable geniuses who saw into what they were writing (which I'm not sure Radcliffe does) who have developed the form since Radcliffe. I'm glad Joan answered my question, for to claim for a book qualities it doesn't have is to risk readers dismissing what qualities it does. I have little patience with people who can't bear to have their favorite author or book shown to have clay feet because that suggests they have not faced what it is in the book for real they are liking and whether it's working as an anondyne and sheer escape for them.

Still I know the book -- or at least for me the book -- is not frightening. It does not make me nervous -- though the sequences have their power still as psychological narrative and for the sex- and death-drenched imagery. The end of Volume 1 is probably one of the "high" points of the book for me in this way. I read it myself for the first time at age 19 and loved it. It didn't scare me, but I did engage deeply with it psychologically and the book has remained for me a landmark experience which was partly responsible for my deciding finally to major in the 18th century -- along with Richardson's Clarissa. Adeline is one of Clarissa's daughters. I probably was riveted by it because of the configuration of female sexuality it projects. It still allures even now though I see it's a child's view -- but then I also think that much of what we read before the later-19th century shows us an author who does not begin to understand what he or she is presenting psychologically.

Historically were we reading it in 1791 (I am told) it would hit us strongly. It apparently did its first readers and Udolpho even more so. These are the real first female gothics in our literature that worked. To talk of The Castle of Otranto is unreal as the text is absurd and clumsy and simply silly (indeed arguably it's not meant seriously at all) -- unless you want to emphasize the visibilia and then it's caricature. Clara Reeve's The English Baron is dull and all surface plot-design. The only thing which really anticipates, comes close to Radcliffe is Sophia Lee's The Recess. I'm glad we've read that on this list together as those who have will see that although Lee has power, except for the opening sequence and then again in the part where Elinor goes mad, Lee lacks depth, is playing with wooden language very often and her female point of view is one which turns men into Ken dolls.

That's all one can say in an email about the milieu -- besides suggesting to people they look at Piranesi and remember the French revolution, the Bastille, the very real castles around at the time, and the powerlessness of women and most men before lettres de cachet and the power of the law and military in the hands of landowners. Godwin's Caleb Williams is the book to read here.

Coming back to the book as a book in itself, I am not sure that one can guess the explanation -- at least not all of it. When we get to the manuscript, course nowadays I think of Eco's ironic opening for his Name of the Rose, "Naturalmente, un manoscritto," and the manuscript immediately tells us who is Adeline's real father (easy to guess) so we begin to suspect the Marquis is the tyrant and then we wonder if he had to get the young man (his brother we ask?) out of the way so he could own the property.

We are in the year 2004 very experienced readers in this stuff, and the "convention" of the manuscript was not so overused by 1791, indeed it was somewhat new in the later 18th century, though its potentials as an interface to the past and its picturesqueness and epistolary uses were already being exploited. The Recess is itself a manuscript and it was imitated immediately. Austen makes fun of the manuscript written by the person in trauma in Henry Tilney's famous scary recital to Catherine on the way to Northanger Abbey. On the other hand, for what it's worth I don't think we do guess what is Pierre de La Motte's problem nor for the very complicated explanation for Adeline false brutal fathers we met at outset until the ending - which is overlong and tedious as an explanation since so much needs to be explained.

Here I'd invoke Levy's commentary I summarized so crudely the other day. He says that the explanation doesn't count. He argues Radcliffe herself doesn't care in the least about it and is holding off so as to enjoy the intense pleasures of imagining these sexual/pictorial/sensual/exciting experiences. For me this is true. I don't in the least care what happens next. I don't read this as detective fiction -- but then I don't read detective fiction unless it has something more than than the genre needs formulaically. I don't read to see what happens at the end of a book; I don't much care except if I have been made psychologically to believe in the character and really identify with him or her or the group. Then I can cry or be happy for them but the specifics are irrelevant. It's all made up. It's fiction and fiction is rarely uncandied. Sometimes I do get anxious if it's not predictable but that is for me nowadays only in 20th century fiction of the really believable sort. Rare. I have to care about the characters. Like them. Believe in them. I do for one book and character: Richard Mahony in Ethel Richardson's long novel same after this hero.

One last obstacle for readers today -- or one last fatal flaw. For many modern readers Radcliffe's language is an obstacle. I have set this book twice for students and learned immediately the first time that most students are put off by the language. To them it's stilted. But they also see Austen's language as unbearably decorous, indirect and without sufficient engagement with all the rawness of life. Austen today is such an icon her faithful readers no longer see how her language is the same as Radcliffe's only much less polished and elegant. For me I simply like 18th century prose. It's not foreign to me; I'm at home in it, especially when written by a cultivated woman. The basic style runs through many of the women of this period, some more direct than others, some less. The English translation of Corinne I read on WW was in the indirect English style we find in Austen and Radcliffe. I liked it and thought it at times conveyed more readily more of inner voice and feel of De Stael than Sylvia Raphael's translation; Avriel Goldberger does not care for the configuration of female sexuality De Stael and Radcliffe are psychologically attuned to or gripped by.

I hope I haven't rambled on too much. This is not well ordered but it's the best I can do in an email early in the morning. I wish people writing about Radcliffe in books were much franker than they are.


Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] Romance of the Forest: Alienation and Scrutiny

In response to Leslie,

How about the idea that another way we could -- and probably are -- reading this romance is as a sentimental novel. In her introduction to the most recent Oxford edition of UdolphoUdolpho is usually ignored by those who discuss it as a gothic romance. Judy mentioned this when she described her reading of Udolpho. The opening sequence of _Udolpho_ presents Emily as a variant on Austen's Marianne: both need to learn to control their passions. In Udolpho, the marriage of Montoni to Emily's aunt is a darker replay of the apparent relationship of the La Mottes in Romance of the Forest. Radcliffe takes to its conclusion what her sense of Pierre de La Motte's distrust and alienation from his wife could lead to.

Leslie's parallel of Charlotte Lucas with women who don't seek companionate marriage not only fits Austen into the paradigm Radcliffe works with, but brings home to us that underneath the gothic visibilia, we have a story rooted in real life. Charlotte Lucas will spend her life with a dense materialistic man whose morality is not simply embarrassing but pernicious. We never do see them alone. Madame de La Motte is spending her life with a man who insults her openly in public, dismisses her views, doesn't confide or want her confidences; we see that humanly since she is dependent on him (attached to society and minimal security through her contract with him) she is led to want some of the advantages of companionate marriage, but it is precisely these La Motte is oblivious to as he himself is not secure.

Radcliffe's text seeks to criticize the arrangements of the ancien regime, social, legal, religious, moral. Austen's text remains in the purview of domestic happiness and shows how women are powerless. Like Radcliffe, you have to think a bit before you see that she does reach out to criticize the larger system we still live in: I refer to the scene where Elizabeth defies Lady Catherine de Bourgh and tells her all her talk about duties and obligations and hierarchy is nonsense; individuals must and in fact do own their own existences no matter what they may be deluded into doing. They must -- as Charlotte's story dramatizes -- live with their choices. Elizabeth's father fears that if she makes such a loveless choice as he did she will not be able to spend her life in a library taking verbal potshots at people she cannot get rid of or needs.


Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004
Subject: [EighteenthCenturyWorlds] The Romance of the Forest

Joan wrote:

I'd also say that there is so much inserting of (to me) ridiculous phraseology of the conventions necessary for gothic writing that one tends to get lost in them.

I must have read too many old gothics, I only actually noticed the occasional odd phraseology. :-)

There is also of course for us today all the footnotes that made it even worse for me by explaining all this.

I totally agree about the footnotes. I found them so intrusive that I stopped reading them. I have now surely missed out on a point or two but am able to enjoy the story without all the digressions. Sometimes I go back after finishing a section and glance at them.


Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) Carceri

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 2 April 2005