This was such a fun read! It dates from 1791, before Mysteries of Udolpho or The Italian, and you can kind of tell; not as much happens in this story. It's kind of quiet for a Gothic novel, but it's also not that long. I think it's shorter than the later two novels.
We start off with La Motte, who is fleeing Paris with the law on his heels (possibly unjustly). Lost on a stormy heath, he looks for help at a house, and is quite startled when the ruffians inside shove a teenage girl at him and tell him to take her away if he wants to live. La Motte, his wife, and Adeline -- our heroine -- end up lost in a forest, where they find a ruined abbey and take shelter inside. Their trusty servant Peter talks them into staying, and fixes it up so it's livable. But! there's a skeleton in a chest in a secret tunnel; what nameless horrors have occurred here? And the abbey's owner, the Marquis, shows up and thinks Adeline would make a nice mistress for him; how can she escape his clutches?
Adeline is not only the most virtuous character around, she's usually the smartest and the most determined too. She faints pretty often, though. Also, since apparently only about ten people live in France, they keep running into each other.
My very favorite thing about this story is when Adeline is kidnapped and taken to a house of decadence and vice, there to be forced into mistresshood. The way you know it's an evil place is not only how luxurious and delicate the decor is -- it's that
The walls were painted in fresco, representing scenes from Ovid...busts of Horace, Ovid, Anacreon, Tibullus, and Petronius Arbiter adorned the recesses...Yep. A bust of Anacreon is a sure giveaway! You gotta love that, right? But the Marquis changes his mind about Adeline, and not because he repents.
So much fun; I love reading silly Gothic novels. I should do Udolpho again sometime -- I read it long ago and I remember what was behind the horrid black veil but just about nothing else. (Reading that and Lewis' Discarded Image at the same time resulted in some really interesting dreams!)