The Romance of the Forest

The Romance of the Forest

The Romance of the Forest

The Romance of the Forest

Synopsis

This novel, although not as well-known as Radcliffe's later works, is thought to represent her work at its best. More than just a work of suspense and mystery, it is a work of ideas--a discussion of the contrasts between hedonistic doctrines and a system of education and values.

Excerpt

Adeline, the heroine of The Romance of the Forest, is portrayed, towards the middle of the novel, reading an old and partially illegible manuscript which she has found in a concealed room in a ruined abbey, and which tells a story of imprisonment and suffering within the confines of this same building. As she comes to the words 'Last night! last night! O scene of horror!', her reactions are recounted as follows:

Adeline shuddered. She feared to read the coming sentence, yet curiosity prompted her to proceed. Still she paused: an unaccountable dread came over her. 'Some horrid deed has been done here,' said she; 'the reports of the peasants are true. Murder has been committed.' The idea thrilled her with horror.

In describing the process by which Adeline reads the manuscript, The Romance of the Forest underlines the promise of horror and terror on which its own narrative structure is based. Like all works of Gothic fiction, the novel constantly raises the expectation of future horrors, suggesting that dreadful secrets are soon to be revealed, and threatening the eruption of extreme--though often unspecified--forms of violence. The passage just quoted affirms very strongly the power of a narrative of mystery and impending violence to produce such moments of horror and terror: in anticipating imminent confirmation of her suspicion that 'murder has been committed', Adeline is so overcome with horror that she is prevented--for a while--from reading further.

The narrative pattern which the Gothic novel actually follows, however, differs in one very important respect from that which it promises--and which is dramatized in the account of Adeline's reaction to the manuscript. The reader of a work of Gothic fiction, far from being thrown into fits of such overwhelming horror that he or she casts the novel aside unfinished, is constantly urged onwards by that very emotion of 'curiosity' which, in Adeline's case, fails to conquer her fear of what she may discover if she reads further. In order to stimulate this response of curiosity, the moments of climactic . . .

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