The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797) is a novel in the gothic genre, written by the English author Ann Radcliffe. The events are set in 1764, thirty-three years before the novel’s publication. It is the last book Radcliffe published during her lifetime (although she did go on to produce the novel Gaston de Blondeville, which appeared posthumously in 1826). The Italian has a dark, mysterious and sombre atmosphere, and concerns the themes of love, devotion and persecution by the Holy Inquisition. It also deals with issues prevalent at the time of the French Revolution, such as religion, aristocracy and nationality. Radcliffe’s renowned use of veil imagery is considered to have reached its height of sophistication and complexity in The Italian. Concealment and disguise are central themes of the novel.
The story is set in the 18th century Italy, where a young nobleman of Naples, Vincentio di Vivaldi, meets a beautiful damsel Ellena Rosalba, with whom he falls in love and whom he intends to marry. Vincentio’s mother, the Marchesa, is against the match and, goaded by a mysterious monk named Schedoni, has Ellena kidnapped. Vincentio nearly marries Ellena, but both are arrested and separated by Schedoni’s subordinates before the nuptial ceremony is completed. Schedoni then attempts to assassinate the girl, but suddenly discovers that she is in fact his own daughter. Schedoni’s plans change radically and he hides Ellena in a safe place. Meanwhile, Vincentio, transported into a prison of Inquisition, struggles to disprove false charges against him. Schedoni appears at the trial, and after several unexpected revelations Vincentio is acquitted. Following a complex twist in the plot, Ellena is revealed to be Schedoni’s niece, rather than his daughter. Her real father, Schedoni’s brother is dead. It turns out that Schedoni descends from an old and noble family, and therefore Ellena becomes an eligible match for Vincentio. The novel ends with a happy marriage between the two, and the villains—the Marchesa, Schedoni, Spalatro, and Nicola—all die.
The carriage having reached the walls, followed their bendings to a considerable extent. These walls, of immense height, and strengthened by innumerable massy bulwarks, exhibited neither window or grate, but a vast and dreary blank; a small round tower only, perched here and there upon the summit, breaking their monotony.
The prisoners passed what seemed to be the principal entrance, from the grandeur of its portal, and the gigantic loftiness of the towers that rose over it; and soon after the carriage stopped at an arch-way in the walls, strongly barricadoed. one of the escort alighted, and, having struck upon the bars, a folding door within was immediately opened, and a man bearing a torch appeared behind the barricado, whose countenance, as he looked through it, might have been copied for the ‘Grim-visaged comfortless Despair of the poet.
No words were exchanged between him and the guard; but on perceiving who were without, he opened the iron gate, and the prisoners, having alighted, passed with the two officials beneath the arch, the guard following with a torch. They descended a flight of broad steps, at the foot of which another iron gate admitted them to a kind of hall; such, however, it at first appeared to Vivaldi, as his eyes glanced through its gloomy extent, imperfectly ascertaining it by the lamp, which hung from the centre of the roof. No person appeared, and a death-like silence prevailed; for neither the officials nor the guard yet spoke; nor did any distant sound contradict the notion, that they were traversing the chambers of the dead. To Vivaldi it occurred, that this was one of the burial vaults of the victims, who suffered in the Inquisition, and his whole frame thrilled with horror. Several avenues, opening from the apartment, seemed to lead to distant quarters of this immense fabric, but still no footstep whispering along the pavement, or voice murmuring through the arched roofs, indicated it to be the residence of the living.