Many years ago, I believed I would become an 18th and 19th century British literature specialist. I took an independent study my last year in college, and I acquired a LOT of novels from the 18th century as a means of building the teaching collection. Lo and behold, I changed my mind my first year of the PhD (to 20th and 21st century, which is an *enormous* shift, but I’ve been very fortunate, and it was absolutely the right choice for me), and that meant I now suddenly had a LOT of novels I would probably not be teaching. I had acquired Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest after reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and seeing it referenced in Emma, and decided it would be fun to laugh at.
If you’ve never read a Gothic novel, you should at least once. It has more melodrama than a Bronte or Hardy novel and is worth three times the enjoyment, because there are secret hallways and mysterious servants, and cartoonishly evil lecherous men and FAINTING WOMEN. So much fainting and crying. I think it’s a total hoot. The Romance of the Forest has so many of the trademarks that it’s a pretty good place to start (nothing will ever top Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, in my opinion, though). Adeline is our heroine, and she gets taken in by family on the run from creditors in Paris. While the family discovers an abandoned abbey and decides to take up residence, Adeline soon discovers that she is being admired by the owner of the abbey, who is rather more lecherous than decorous. Adeline decides escape is her only option, particularly because she’s fallen in love with a different person, and the hijinks ensue, including the discovery of a body in the abbey cellar.
I’m telling you, I had such a great time reading this. I think it doesn’t take itself TOO seriously, which is half the fun. I also think it’s way over the top, which is why Jane Austen parodied it so effectively in Northanger Abbey (also, one of my favorites of hers, because it’s hilarious).
Cross-posted to my blog.