Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Book Review of The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
Author: Ann Radcliffe
Type of book: Gothic novel, late 1700s, young adult to adult, conspiracy, Inquisition, Italy, monk, hidden identities
Year it was published: 1796
From the first moment Vincentio di Vivaldi, a young nobleman, sets eyes on the veiled figure of Ellena, he is captivated by her enigmatic beauty and grace. But his haughty and manipulative mother is against the match and enlists the help of her confessor to come between them. Schedoni, previously a leading figure of the Inquisition, is a demonic, scheming monk with no qualms about the task, whether it entails abduction, torture—or even murder. The Italian secured Ann Radcliffe's position as the leading writer of Gothic romance of the age, for its atmosphere of supernatural and nightmarish horrors, combined with her evocation of sublime landscapes and chilling narrative.
The characters strike me as one dimensional and very generic: Ellena is the helpless and lucky heroine who doesn't faint as much as other heroines and that's it, while Vivaldi loves her and is willing to do anything for her. There is also Schedoni, whom Ellena helps turn from darkness, kind of. Other characters don't deserve a mention but are generic and barely seen again.
I have no idea what the theme should be: good always triumphs?
The plot is very simplistic and its written in a third person narrative from Vivaldi's and Ellena's points of views, as well as Schedoni's. I actually miss her purple prose as well as the poetry that was written in previous novels. Since it was published after Mysteries of Udolpho, I had hoped it would be better, but it wasn't, not at all.
Ann's fiction is characterized by seemingly supernatural events being explained through reason. Throughout her work traditional morals are asserted, women’s rights are advocated for, and reason prevails.
Ann published 6 novels in all. These are (listed alphabetically) The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, Gaston de Blondeville, The Italian, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest and A Sicilian Romance. She also published a book of poetry, but her talent for prose far exceeded her poetic ability.
Radcliffe is considered to be the founder of Gothic literature. While there were others that preceded her, Radcliffe was the one that legitimized Gothic literature. Sir Walter Scott called her the 'founder of a class or school‘ (Facer). Radcliffe's novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe did not like where Gothic literature was headed, and her final novel, The Italian, was written in response to Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk. It is assumed that this frustration is what caused Radcliffe to cease writing.
Ann Radcliffe had a profound influence on many later authors, including the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott also interspersed his work with poems, as did Radcliffe. Indeed, "Scott himself said that her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two dimensional, the plots far fetched and improbably, with 'elaboration of means and futility of result.'" (From wikipedia.)
At first I thought it would be better written, at least from the start it sounded almost like a modern novel. But as the story progressed, the worse written it became. The story was predictable, laughable, and I couldn't relate or feel sorry for the characters. (Involving the Inquisition just because Vivaldi escaped with Ellena? Or going through so many lengths just to assassinate her?) I am beginning to suspect that Mysteries of Udolpho has really spoiled me when it comes to Gothic literature. This has got to be fifth or sixth Gothic novel that I detested and gave very low marks to. Towards the very end, I got sick of reading it, thus I read one sentence per paragraph (really reduces the story...) I also have a bone to pick with the fact that Introduction was never properly tied up to the ending. (In Introduction, a group visits a monastery where they meet a murderer who works there. Upon their questions, the murderer gives them this story to read. The story ends with a marriage and never goes into the beginning.) It's written in a very similar style to The Monk by Matthew Lewis, and this is much more readable and understandable than The Monk.
1 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)