Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This is a summary and brief analysis of Ann Radcliffe's gothic novel The Romance of the Forest. We will look at the themes of this work as well as the major themes in the gothic style. After the lesson, test yourself with a quiz.

Summary of The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe

The Romance of the Forest is a gothic novel, a style popularized by writers like Radcliffe. They were often set in castles or great houses, involved a mystery, supernatural elements, a 'damsel in distress' and typically an overpowering male figure. They were very popular during the Romantic period of British literature. This period was noted for it's focus on individualism, call-backs to ancient times in aesthetics, a blurring of class lines with a belief in social mobility between classes, and a veneration of creativity and the artist above others.

The Romance of the Forest begins with Pierre La Motte and his wife as they flee creditors, cutting through a lush forest in the hopes of escaping them and seeking shelter in an ancient home. The home turns out to be inhabited by an old man and young girl. The man tells the La Mottes they must choose between death or taking the young girl with them on their journey.

The La Mottes and the girl, who gives her name as Adeline, are taken to a carriage and told to leave. The carriage driver, Peter, hurries and they flee the strange old man. La Motte and his wife are unwilling to press Adeline for more details about her identity as she is agitated.

They eventually come to an abandoned abbey and find a suite of apartments habitable. They decide to stay there and make it their new residence, sending Peter to a nearby village for food. Peter returns with news that the ruins belong to a nobleman living on an estate some distance away, and the locals believe the abbey to be haunted by the ghost of a man once imprisoned there.

They build a bucolic life where Adeline begins to take on the role of daughter to the La Mottes. She confides her story to Madame La Motte after a time at the ruins. Adeline is the only daughter of an impoverished chevalier who intended for her to marry after she returned from the convent where she was raised after her mother's death. Adeline refused, and the chevalier took her to the ancient house in the forest where the La Mottes found her. There, she had been abused by her keeper, and she feared a dire fate.

They have been at the ruins for a month when Peter learns, after a trip into town, that a stranger has been asking after La Motte. La Motte, unnerved, rushes to hide in the ruins and explores a trapdoor he had seen in the apartments. He finds a new set of secret apartments and a large chest. He is horrified to find the chest contains human remains, but decides not to tell the others. He convinces them they must all move to these secret apartments to remain safe.

Adeline is sent out the next morning to check for intruders and finds the La Motte's son, Louis, among the ruins, having left his regiment to find his missing parents. He falls in love at first sight with Adeline.

Madame La Motte confides in her son that she fears Adeline has designs on her husband and tasks Louis with following La Motte on his walks to discover if he is meeting Adeline in private. Louis is unable to find where his father goes, and Madame La Motte is even more convinced of her ideas, while Louis shows increasing attentions to an indifferent Adeline.

It is not long before more strangers arrive at the abbey. They introduce themselves as the Marquis of Montalt, owner of the abbey, and his attendant, an army man named Theodore. La Motte becomes very agitated at the sight of Theodore but will not reveal why. Before Louis can speak with his father alone, he must return to his regiment or face death for desertion.

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