Classic Review: The Romance of the Forest

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
The Romance of the Forest 
by Ann Radcliffe

3 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

Adeline is cast out by her father and finds shelter with her new friends, the La Motte family, who are on the run from the law. The family find a refuge in an old ruined Abbey in the depths of the forest, where they hide from prying eyes, always terrified that they will be discovered and forced from their pitiful home.

The Marquis who owns the dilapidated Abbey, discovers them living on his land, but inexplicably allows them to remain, making a mysterious alliance with Mr. La Motte. Ghoulish skeletons, mysterious manuscripts, and gruesome secret rooms are lying around all over the Abbey, and the dark forest holds secrets of its own.

The friendly Theodore warns Adeline that her life is in danger, but he is called away to his regiment before he can explain or help her. Adeline goes through every kind of disaster and terrifying mishap, fleeing for her life when she is betrayed by those she trusts.

This is Gothic melodrama at its best! I lost count of how many times Adeline fainted, but it must have been more than twenty times. She dissolves into tears, is frozen with terror, collapses under the strain of horror, and is prostrate with grief in every single chapter.

Several other ladies, not to be outdone, also fainted on several occasions, and even the men collapsed into a chair overcome with emotion every once in a while. Everyone is constantly exclaiming, “Alas, woe is me!”

Everything that possibly can go wrong for Adeline does go wrong in the plot. It’s one catastrophe after another for the entire book! There are so many lucky coincidences and timely misfortunes that it became funny, and when that plot twist finally arrived, it was so obvious that I didn’t bat an eye.

The writing is laboriously descriptive and extravagant, peppered with pompous poetry which various characters recite or compose on the spot. I started skimming over the descriptive passages, and skipped the poetry altogether.

I was both charmed and frustrated with Adeline. She’s sweet and virtuous and adorable. She’s pitiful and weak and spineless. She’s intelligent, but unresourceful. I just wish that she would take action, and DO something.
There are only TWO scenes in the entire book where she does something without the help of a man. (She explores a secret passage by herself in one chapter, and later on in the book she jumps out of a window.) There were at least a dozen scenes where she could have taken more action, but instead decided that wringing her hands and composing poetry were the more prudent decisions.
Even so, I did love her character. She’s just too charming and sweet!

Despite the chaotic plot and the sensational melodrama, I really enjoyed reading this book! It’s so mournful that I found it funny!

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