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...

(The entire section is 821 words.)