Author: Ann Radcliffe
Genre: Gothic Romance
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Released: 15 October 1791
Set in a Roman Catholic Europe of violent passions and extreme oppression, the novel follows the fate of its heroine Adeline, who is mysteriously placed under the protection of a family fleeing Paris for debt. They take refuge in a ruined abbey in south-eastern France, where sinister relics of the past - a skeleton, a manuscript, and a rusty dagger - are discovered in concealed rooms. Adeline finds herself at the mercy of the abbey's proprietor, a libidinous Marquis who attentions finally force her to contemplate escape to distant regions.
Rich in allusions to aesthetic theory and to travel literature, The Romance of the Forest is also concerned with current philosophical debate and examines systems of thought central to the intellectual life of late eighteenth-century Europe.
A very interesting read indeed, full of mystery, romance and intrigue, with a skeleton thrown in for good measure.
The La Motte family are fleeing Paris, running from creditors, when the happen upon a house to ask for directions. Instead of getting directions, they end up taking in Adeline, and asked to never return with her. With their new acquaintance, they soon take refuge in a rumbling abbey in the middle of a dense forest. When it's discovered that the Marquis who owns it no longer visits and that the village people fear that the horrible stories about the abbey are true, La Motte decides to live in the abbey, knowing that he won't be found by those hunting him down. The large abbey conceals many secrets and concealed passageways. La Motte happens across a chest containing a skeleton, while Adeline is haunted by nightmares that lead her to a manuscript and a rusty daggar. Soon, Adeline is pursued by the Marquis who is intent on marrying her, despite her objections, for she is in love with Theodore. Things get intense when Adeline is abducted by the Marquis but then escapes, only to be captured by him again, but then escape again and learn the truth about her heritage and legacy.
This book was definitely not what I was expecting. I went into the story hoping for some creepy intrigue and a ghost or two, with some romance and pretty scenery thrown in on the side. But it didn't really do it for me. True, there is intrigue, it's a little bit creepy and there was possibly a ghost, but the story fell flat, especially in the middle.
I really think this book would have benefited from being about 100 pages less, with a little less of the back and forth that filled the middle. I also felt like the 'sinister relics of the past' that were mentioned in the blurb played a slightly lesser roll than they sounded like they would. Yes, they were key parts to the story in the end, but there was an entire part in the middle where they didn't seem to matter at all. In fact, I nearly thought they wouldn't be mentioned again until they made a reappearance in the final few chapters.
Another problem I had with this book was the writing style. Written in the late 1700s, I knew it wasn't going to be what I was used to, and for the most part it was relatively easy to read and understand. But Radcliffe's heavy use of over-describing nature was, while helpful when writing my essay for university, bogged me down and made me loose interest - I did not need to have a whole page describing a sunrise in the beginning of the book.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the story and the twist at the end was something that I honestly did not see coming. It's just that, by the end of the story, I had completely lost interest in the characters and what was happening to them. If I'm being honest, if I didn't have to read this for university and write an essay on it, I would have DNF'd it about halfway through.
If you enjoy classics and Gothic literature, definitely give this book a go. At this point in time, for someone who hasn't read too many classics, it definitely was not the book for me, and I will certainly give it another go in the future when I've read a bit more widely. But if you have experienced a range of classic works, then I'm sure you'll be able to appreciate the story a lot more than I currently do.