The Romance of the Forest Analysis

Ann Ward

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Forest of Fontanville

Forest of Fontanville (fon-tan-veel). Imaginary forest in the south of France, where the disgraced aristocrat Pierre de la Motte sets up temporary residence after fleeing with his wife and servants from Paris. Remote and unpopulated, the luxuriant forest is cause for apprehension to de la Motte, who initially worries that it may hide bandits, or that his entourage may stray from the overrun and ill-defined track that traverses it. When his coach breaks down, de la Motte is forced to put up in abandoned St. Clair’s abbey, in the heart of the forest. When he decides that the secluded abbey will make a good refuge from his pursuers, the forest becomes part of his self-created prison.

A man of infirm moral character, de la Motte sees the forest only in terms of how it serves his self-interest. However, Adeline de St. Pierre, a young woman traveling with him, finds the forest a source of spiritual refreshment. Sensitive to its vivid colors and varied plant and animal life, Adeline responds wholesomely to the setting, which for her stirs feelings of exaltation and reverence. When the innocent Adeline looks on nature, she is compelled to think of “the great Author of Nature.”

The forest is one of several settings in the novel that equate nature with holiness and the sublime. Adeline, who is pure of heart, flourishes in the natural environment, whereas dwellings built by men generally become her prison.

Saint Clair’s abbey

Saint Clair’s abbey. Abandoned abbey in the forest of Fontanville that de la Motte converts into his personal sanctuary. At several points, the author describes the castle as “Gothic,” which is to say that it embodies attributes associated with the gothic in fiction: it is gloomy, forebidding, and chaotic. De la Motte observes that “the greater part of the pile appeared to be sinking into ruins, and that, which had withstood the ravages of time, shewed the remaining fabric more awful in...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bruce, Donald Williams. “Ann Radcliffe and the Extended Imagination.” Contemporary Review 258 (June, 1991): 300-308. Discusses Radcliffe’s use of imagination in shaping her descriptions of landscape to correlate with the development of her heroines. Includes historical information regarding her study of Italian travelogues.

Cottom, Daniel. The Civilized Imagination: A Study of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. A scholarly examination of the link between Radcliffe’s novels and eighteenth century English society. Cottom focuses on the relationships of the female protagonists and social values.

Durant, David. “Ann Radcliffe and the Conservative Gothic.” Studies in English Literature 22, no. 3 (Summer, 1982): 519-530. Durant proposes that Radcliffe’s gothic fiction is a reaction against romanticism and the irrational. Discusses Radcliffe’s heroines and their rejection of the “fallen world.”

Ringe, Donald. A. American Gothic: Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982. In chapter 2, Ringe addresses the use in fiction of the supernatural, dreams, and the psychological motivation. Cites Radcliffe’s novel for its use of those traditional elements of the gothic tradition.

Tracy, Ann B. The Gothic Novel 1790-1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. Includes a synopsis of Ann Radcliffe’s major novels, including The Romance of the Forest. Includes a very strong introductory chapter, which discusses the common themes and important elements of gothic fiction.