The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

The Italian

First Published: 1797  (Kindle ed. 2010)
My copy: Downloaded on Kindle

Memorable quote: “This place, perhaps, infests my mind with congenial gloom, for I find that, at this moment, there is scarcely a superstition too dark for my credulity.”

Thoughts:Published in 1797 this was the final novel from one of the early initiators of Gothic Romance – and many would say the genre’s queen. The story begins as a Romeo and Juliet type affair: Vivaldi has fallen for Ellena, an enigmatic orphan, but his family strongly oppose the match. There is also a seemingly supernatural element as young suitor is repeatedly warned to keep his distance by the ghostly appearance of a sinister black monk. The plot moves fast, with lots of gorgeous descriptions of travel in the Alps and across Italy, and it takes in along the way many of the deliciously overwrought staples of the genre: poison, deathbed confessions, evil priests, sequestered monasteries and even the Inquisition. The main character is one Father Schedoni, the confessor of Vivaldi’s mother, who, once drawn in to oppose the match using any means possible, finds his own shady past and web of deceit begins to unravel.

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, and though Schedoni’s villainy is hugely enjoyable, 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, I’m sad to say this was one of the worst Kindle editions I’ve seen: absolutely riddled with typos, which – even for 97p – was a real shame.

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