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. 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 decay.” If the natural world surrounding the abbey suggests the permanence and pervasiveness of the holy, then the abbey suggests the transience and impermanence of man and his works.
Typically, in gothic fiction, crumbling edifices and collapsing architecture incarnate the moral and spiritual decline of their residents. Just as Adeline is in sympathy with nature, so does de la Motte identify with the ruined abbey. “The comparison between himself and the gradation of decay, which these columns exhibited, was but too obvious and affecting.” Many different aspects of the abbey find correlatives in parts of de la Motte’s character: The abbey, a former place of reverence, is in ruins, just as de la Motte’s moral character is infirm. The abbey is supposedly haunted by a ghost from the past, much as de la Motte is haunted by his past indiscretions. It is honeycombed with labyrinthine passages and secret apertures, just as de la Motte is a participant in elaborate, twisted intrigues. The abbey is also a property owned by the marquis de Montalt, and de la Motte’s stay in it is equivalent to his entrapment in de Montalt’s evil schemes.
De Montalt’s villa. Gaudy residence on the outskirts of the forest to which Adeline is abducted by the marquis’ henchmen. The villa is magnificently outfitted in “airy and elegant taste,” and its fixtures, furniture, and decorations so splendidly arranged that the “whole seemed the works of enchantment, and rather resembled the palace of a fairy than anything of human conformation.” Adeline responds positively to the beauty of the villa and outlying gardens but cannot separate them from the marquis, who represents a threat to her virtue. Eventually, she realizes that the voluptuous and provocative character of the furnishings “seemed designed to fascinate the imagination, and to seduce the heart.” Their beauty notwithstanding, they are tools the marquis uses in the hope of coercing Adeline into marriage. This marriage, like the villa, would be no more than a fancy prison. The artificiality of the villa contradicts the simple, unaffected natural world to which Adeline is drawn.
Leloncourt (leh-LON-koor). Village at the foot of the Savoy Alps, to which Adeline flees in the company of de la Motte’s servant Peter, whose hometown it is. Leloncourt represents an ideal setting that is spiritually superior to all others in the tale. It is regal in natural beauty. Its people, who are entirely uncorrupted by the city life known to most of the book’s characters, function as a compassionate community. Adeline finds a surrogate family in the La Luc household, which takes her in and treats her like a daughter. She spends her days free of the concerns that have hitherto oppressed her, and finds that the natural scenery awakens “sensations truly sublime.” The idyllic interlude she spends at Leloncourt rejuvenates her soul and the “romantic simplicity” of the environment inspires her to near-religious adoration.