‘[E]very nerve thrilled with horror’
The French Revolution, the past and Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791)
in Sinister histories
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Re-evaluating the implications of the French Revolution for Gothic fiction, this chapter examines representations of the past in a novel that is often neglected in Gothic studies: Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest. Written in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution, but set in seventeenth-century Roman Catholic France, it discusses the ways in which the novel bears traces of the present and examines the significance of the decaying abbey and fragmented manuscript that feature in the novel. Citing the enormity of the events taking place in France and the challenge they presented to established Enlightenment historical theories and methods, it is argued that The Romance of the Forest responds to such shifting notions of history by revealing a heightened sense of historical consciousness that is engendered by the French Revolution. Influenced by The Recess and utilising the Female Gothic’s focus on the heroine, this chapter shows how Radcliffe’s novel engages with the politics of the past and, more specifically, with the contested ‘Gothic’ views of history presented in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790).

Sinister histories

Gothic novels and representations of the past, from Horace Walpole to Mary Wollstonecraft

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