In Romance of the Forest, Ann Radcliffe’s heroine, a pure and artless creature, finds solace in the act of reading poetry when she is most lonely. Our endnotes tell us that Gothic novel has undergone a tradition of acquainting itself with English and French poets – the characters of the novel take pleasure in reading poetry while the novel is participating in developing the language of romanticism. Adeline reminds me of the ideal romantic subject – untouched and unaffected by the impurity of social relationships and completely bound to the natural world. The most interesting aspect of Adeline’s character is the way in which her interaction with nature is influenced by La Motte’s limited but “well chosen” (82) book collection.
When Adeline’s relationship with Madame La Motte begins to grow sour, she resorts to both her reading and nature to escape that which her innocent purity cannot reconcile, namely the perversity of human behavior. Madame La Motte suspects her of having an affair with her husband, and thus, no longer acts as a comforting surrogate mother but becomes her malicious rival. Adeline has not been corrupted by society to the extent that she can apprehend the real reason Madame La Motte begins to dislike her. Strict adherence to propriety prevents Madame La Motte from relating anything about the subject of her suspicion. Thus, Adeline finds herself alone and deprived of a female companion:
Adeline passed the greatest part of the day along in her chamber, where having examined her conduct, she endeavored to fortify her heart against the unmerited displeasure of Madame La Motte. This was a task more difficult than that of self acquittance. She loved her, and had relied on her friendship, which notwithstanding the conduct of Madame, still appeared valuable to her (82).
What Adeline is primarily losing from the friendship she fosters with Madame La Motte is her company. The forest is a lonely place and without a female companion, it becomes even lonelier. No matter how malicious Madame La Motte becomes, her presence is still valuable to Adeline because of her troublesome circumstances: she has nowhere and no one to go to other than the La Motte family. However, she learns to cope with the absence of companionship, and does so, by resorting to the company of La Motte’s books of poetry. In reading, she finds comfort and solace; moreover, reading allows her to overcome her fear of isolation within an untraversed, wild forest:
She read a little, but finding it impossible any longer to abstract her attention from the scene around, she closed the book, and yielded to the sweet complacent melancholy which the hour inspired. The air was still, the sun, sinking below the distant hill, spread a purple flow over the landscape, and touched the forest glades with softer light …As she mused, she recollected and repeated the following stanzas … (83).
This is scene is somewhat reminiscent of the William Wordsworth’s philosophy of poetic creativity, an act that requires “recollection in tranquility.” Adeline fits nicely within this romantic configuration of the isolated self amongst the scene of boundless nature. In “musing” and “recollecting” she passes her time, and her melancholy is no longer her weakness but becomes her new companion as it is transformed from a burden to a “complacent” source of pleasure.