Synopsis of Maria Regina Roche's Clermont by Emma Hodinott
Clermont is Regina Maria Roche’s only true Gothic novel. It traces the story of Madeline and her father, Clermont, who live in the rural region of Dauphiny in pre-revolution France. The tranquillity of this setting is punctuated only by stories of Clermont’s bouts of deep melancholy and his abject secrecy about his past.
However, further events are about to interrupt the peace of Madeline, as she meets and forms an attachment with the mysterious de Sevignie. His residence in Dauphiny is brief and after his sudden departure, Madeline is removed to the home of the Countess de Merville, a long lost family friend who had happened upon their cottage after her carriage had met with an accident. That she knows of Clermont’s past is obvious, but it remains shrouded in mystery at this point.
In the midst of the society of the Countess, Madeline and de Sevignie are thrown together once more. Madeline however, feels rebuffed by his seemingly indifferent behaviour. Chancing to meet in a grotto, Madeline and de Sevignie eventually admit to their true and tender feelings for each other, but he insists that their love is hopeless. At this time, we also become aware that the Countess is ill, and mention is made of the secrets surrounding Clermont’s past.
The Countess, in returning late from the chapel one evening, arouses the fears of her servants and they send out a search party for her. On entering the chapel, she is discovered on the floor, bleeding, and two figures are seen running from the horrid scene. At this point, the weather becomes stormy and Madeline spends a night listening to the ghost stories of the servants. The climax of this distressing period comes with news of the Countess’s death. She is placed in her coffin before her daughter, Madame D’Alembert arrives, in order to conceal the cause of her death.
Madame’s arrival is followed shortly by news of the arrival of her husband, intelligence that causes her some distress and she insists that Madeline be hidden for the duration of his visit, which turns out to be longer than expected. While concealed in the chamber of the Countess, Madeline is terrified by the appearance of a stranger in her apartment. News of this convinces Madame that Madeline had better flee if she is to be safe, and under the cover of darkness she is conveyed through subterranean tunnels away from the Chateau.
Her journey home is a no less terrifying experience, as she and her travelling companion are convinced they have fallen into the hands of local banditti. This is not the case however and they are offered refuge at the Castle Montmorenci. The Count de Montmorenci finds a picture of Clermont that Madeline had misplaced during the panic, and demands to know how she came by it. Not willing to divulge the reason for his interest, Madeline returns home, where days later, Clermont receives a letter from the Count.
This event occasions the eventual unfolding of Clermont’s story and we learn that he is the Count’s son. Madeline however is unsatisfied with the account given to her by her father. They both visit the Castle, where Madeline discovers a picture of Clermont’s dead brother, who is the exact match of de Sevignie. The Count demands to hear Clermont’s story, which is relayed with the omission of any mention of his brother. This arouses Madeline’s suspicions, but her sense of propriety prevents her from investigating the matter. The reinstatement of Clermont as heir to the fortune of Montmorenci means that it no longer passes to Monsieur D’Alembert, who is revealed as a distant relative. Accustomed to wealth and being an extravagant man, he is not happy about this discovery. Determining to marry Madeline to procure the fortune, he banishes his wife and spreads news of her death. His father takes up his case and enters Madeline’s chamber via a secret passage to convince her to marry his son. She is repelled by the idea and rejects it, occasioning the need for a more forceful approach. This comes in the form of a dagger, presented to Madeline as her uncle’s murder weapon. When the weapon is found in her possession by Clermont, he becomes deeply agitated and agrees to tell Madeline the truth about his still mysterious past.
Conspired against by those around him, Clermont had believed his brother guilty of seducing his wife in Italy before he knew her and getting her pregnant. In an act of revenge, he hunts his brother down and stabs him. Leaving his brother for dead, he returns home to discover the lie and flees in his state of guilt and remorse. Having been involved in the deception, Monsieur D’Alembert’s father uses his knowledge of this crime, in order to force Madeline to marry his son.
Fleeing this evil, Madeline is spirited away to Paris, where she believes herself safe. She is not however and finds herself at the mercy of the D’Alemberts, who not only hold her hostage, but also reveal they have got Clermont imprisoned and drugged. While this is all happening in Paris, the real truth has come out at the Castle, that Clermont’s brother was never really dead, and once he has been released from his place of imprisonment, a party is sent to rescue Madeline and Clermont. De Sevignie, who turns out to be the long lost son of Clermont’s brother, is of this rescue party, and every one is finally reunited.
The novel concludes with the marriage of Madeline and de Sevignie and also Madame D’Alembert, who is freed from the clutches of her evil husband by his death. They all settle in their rightful family homes and live out their days in blissful happiness and close friendship.