The Italian

by Charlotte Reads Classics

The Italian

Her heart was as heavy as her step; for when is it that peace and evil passions dwell together?

I’ve been reading more gothic stories, this time The Italian by Ann Radcliffe. Overall I enjoyed the novel and a return to Radcliffe’s beautiful writing. I read The Mysteries of Udolpho and whilst I liked it I got a bit stuck with all the descriptive landscapes. This novel in comparison was good because there was still the focus on the sublime landscape but it didn’t really get in the way of the plot. On the downside, there aren’t the supernatural elements you find in Udolpho.

I don’t want to give much of the story away because the beauty of The Italian were the (most often completely unexpected) twists and turns. Basically the story involves a forbidden love between a Neapolitan nobleman Vincentio di Vivaldi and the beautiful but lowly and orphaned Ellena Rosalba. Vivaldi’s mother concocts a plot with her confessor to have Ellena kidnapped and imprisoned in a nunnery. The course of true love never runs smooth: On their way to elope they are taken captive by the Holy Inquisition. Throw in some parental revelations and you’ve got yourself a pretty captivating story!

I think the reason I liked The Italian so much is that it has almost all of my favourite gothic qualities:

  • Pathetic fallacy: There is an amazing kind of atmosphere in this novel; storms in all the right places, still and beautiful evenings during vespers, despairing seas and obstacles as big as mountains.
  • The sublime: Definitely not a concept I completely understand but I am enjoying trying to work it out in my head – its the part of the novel that has really stuck with me afterwards. I think the focus on the landscape is supposed to invoke a feeling of greatness beyond human comprehension, which is why gothic novels (etc) manage to be both beautiful and horrible at the same time.
  • Disguise:  Lots of dark places, flowing robes, concealed people and paths, secret identities.
  • Villain: Schedoni, the confessor, is a perfect gothic villain. He is passionate, dark, guilty, ambitious, ruthless, has a horrible horrible past, and is supposed to be the basis of a lot of Byronic Victorian characters.

It wasn’t until I put this list together that I started thinking about Frankenstein. Shelley wrote her novel twenty years after this was published which I suppose makes it easy to see the beginning of Radcliffe’s legacy. There is something about the writing of the late 1700s/ early 1800s which is so interesting… Perhaps a new reading list is coming on.