Thursday, August 6, 2009
The Italian By Ann Radcliff
Ann Radcliff was listed as one of the most talented writers of the “Gothic Romance” genre of the late 18th century
Her prose and magnificent descriptions of the cities, country sides, people and the customs of the times, particularly the harsh dominance of the church and the inquisition easily carries the reader to the places and actions of the story. “The Italian” was published in 1797; Radcliff was contemporary with Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen
The plot is simple; a titled young man falls in love with a young lady of unknown family. His parents, wealthy and powerful, strongly object to the liaison but the boy is steadfast in his infatuation. The young lovers, Vivaldi and Ellena continue to meet in secret but they are spied upon by the Black Monk, Schedoni, Vivaldi’s mother’s confessor. The Marchesa is concerned that the family name and status will be ruined if Vivaldi marries Ellena and convinces herself and the compliant Schedoni that the laws of Naples could be interpreted that ruination of a family should be punishable by death. The Marchesa becomes obsessed with this idea and asks the Monk to do the deed.
Ellena is kidnapped and taken to a far off convent where she is threatened and given the choice of immediate marriage to some one of her class or “taking the veil” and becoming a nun. Her trials and adventures at this strange place are exciting and frightening.
Meanwhile, Vivaldi and a servant companion set out to rescue Ellena; more trial and tribulations occur and when Ellena is, finally, found and a plan to remove her from the convent is formulated, Schedoni and officers of the Holy Inquisition show up and transport the star crossed lovers to Rome where they await the Inquisitors and the torture chambers.
In spite of the almost impossible situations, and the non ending descriptions of the mountains, the streams and the roads and the towns, the characters’ histories have been so well defined that the suspense will carry a reader to the final page. It is up to the reader to decide who the story was really about. This was a splendid tale.
Ann Radcliff wrote many novels; her best was supposed to be “The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) I want to read this.