How do I identify the relationship between nature and female experience in this novel?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Identify the relationship between nature and the female experience in The Romance of the Forest by associating Adeline's freely expressed female self with nature and by associating her oppressed female self with the crumbling Gothic abbey [Gothic is used by Ward Radcliffe to identify the Gothic architectural building style and to present the metaphoric literary association with symbolic "Gothic" forces].

The female experience, as highlighted by feminist literary criticism, is identified as fundamentally consisting of such characteristics as uncontrollable and deviant female nature; contrasting spiritually transcendent empowerment and psychologically destructive vulnerability; limited scope of world experience and confined prison-like environment; powerlessness while desiring power.

Early in The Romance of the Forest, Ward Radcliffe introduces the thematic connection between nature and the female experience. Adeline's journey through the sun bathed forest, though with barely a track for the carriage to follow, takes her into the symbolic representation of her soul. She feels exaltation and liberation as "her heart was gladdened with complacent delight" by the unfettered beauty of the forest.

the gentle warmth of the sun, whose beams vivified every hue of nature, and opened every floweret of spring, revived Adeline, and inspired her with life and health. As she inhaled the breeze, her strength seemed to return, and, as her eyes wandered through the romantic glades that opened into the forest, her heart was gladdened...

Interestingly, the very same forest terrifies La Motte, who fears Peter has lost the way and who fears being "benighted in a scene so wild and solitary" and being overcome by "banditti." With their arrival at the Gothic abbey, Ward Radcliffe introduces the opposite side of the female experience, that of vulnerability, prison-like environments, powerlessness and oppressive confinement.

the Gothic remains of an abbey ... appeared to be sinking into ruins, and that, which had withstood the ravages of time, shewed the remaining features of the fabric more awful in decay. The lofty battlements, thickly enwreathed with ivy, were half demolished, and become the residence of birds of prey.

One tenet of feminist criticism is that women writers of the 18th and 19th centuries wrote about a limited range of experiences because of their own confinement within limited experiences and environments, e.g. they were confined to being the Angel in the House. The dualistic aspects of the female experience are accentuated by Ward Radcliffe in the contrast between the forest, which liberates Adeline, and the Gothic (symbolically: dark, harboring evil, crumbling, threatening) abbey (abbey: having the pretense of spiritual purity yet the impact of spiritual depravity).

[the windows'] pointed arches still exhibited fragments of stained glass, once the pride of monkish devotion.

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The Romance of the Forest

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