`His figure was striking, but not so from grace ... and as he stalked along, wrapt in the black garments of his order, there was something terrible in its air; something almost super-human.'First published in 1797, The Italian is one of the finest examples of Gothic romance. The fast-paced, narrative centres on Ann Radcliffe's most brilliant creation, the sinister monk Schedoni, whose past is shrouded in mystery.From the novel's opening chapters the reader is ushered into a shadowy world in which crime and religion are mingled. In the church of Santa Maria del Pianto in Naples, Ellena Rosalba and Vincentio di Vivaldi first meet; but their love is ill-omened. Leagued against them are the proud andambitious Marchese di Vivaldi and her confessor Father Schedoni. When Ellena vanishes on the death of her guardian, Vivaldi sets out in pursuit of her across the mountainous regions of southern Italy before himself falling prey to the Holy Inquisition.This revised and expanded edition explores the novel in the context of British attitudes to Italy and Roman Catholicism in the late eighteenth century with close attention to the novel's style and form.
This is worth a read, particularly if you are interested in the early history of the Gothic novel. But, though The Italian is commonly hailed as Radcliffe's finest work, I have to say I found this a bit of a slog in places and overall much preferred her earlier book, the beautifully creepy Mysteries of Udolpho. Also, the e-book I read was one of the worst Kindle editions I've seen: absolutely riddled with typos, which - even for 77p - was a real shame.
I feel that if you cut out most of the traveling scenes, and most of the scenes involving description of the setting, this book would be many times more enjoyable. It was pretty great once I got into it, but actually getting into the reading and not being easily distracted was difficult to do.
However, at the time of writing, it's been four or five years since I read it, so I don't remember it as clearly as I should, and I may simply be remembering the strongest of my post-reading impressions. At the very least, I never hated the book, and I've been unwilling to part with it, even as I've had to shrink my library several times.
I can see how later works reflect this, but it just wasn't for me. I found my mind wandering to other novels.
Scenes here and there are engaging, but overall this lengthy tome is slow-paced and lacklustre.