Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Romance of the Forest, a popular eighteenth century romance, marks Ann Radcliffe’s contribution to the development of the novel genre. In each of her gothic tales, a damsel in distress must usually endure various trials involving danger, terror, and mystery. Underlying the plot is the opposition of good and evil. Radcliffe may employ such traditional elements of gothic fiction as dungeons, decaying castles, ghosts, and villains, but the conflict she portrays is between virtue and vice, and the novel sets up a fixed system of punishments and rewards. Powers of evil, whether natural or supernatural, are ultimately overruled.

Radcliffe’s characters represent varying degrees of good and evil. Adeline, the heroine, is the most virtuous. She does not rebel against the evil forces that seek to destroy her but trusts her safety to divine providence. Her moral strength enables her to triumph despite her feminine vulnerability. Adeline, who faces both physical and emotional isolation, has mysterious origins; she spent her childhood in a convent, apart from family. Later, her supposed father rejected her and placed her in the hands of strangers. Radcliffe does not reveal Adeline’s heritage and the facts regarding her father’s identity and murder until the close of the novel.

Adeline is also isolated physically. Each time she tries to escape disaster, she is somehow imprisoned. After leaving the convent, she is first locked in a dark chamber with barred windows, then sent away with strangers to live in exile in the abbey ruins of the forest. There she is abducted from a black tomb by the marquis’s servant and eventually returned to confinement in the abbey towers.

She escapes these physical barricades only when she flees France to seek asylum in the mountains of Savoy. Her new location is not only at a higher altitude but also on higher moral ground. The darkness of the forest and the plots to abduct her are here replaced by sunlight, open scenery, and the kindness of the la Luc family. Even here, however, her emotional isolation continues. The la Lucs care for her, but she remains separated from the knowledge of her true identity and from the man she loves.

Theodore, Adeline’s lover and rescuer, is a virtuous young...

(The entire section is 929 words.)