Places: The Romance of the Forest

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1791

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Places DiscussedForest of Fontanville

Forest Romance of the Forest, Theof 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 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

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.

BibliographyBruce, 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.
Categories: Places