Italian By Radcliffe Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:52:56
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In Ann Radcliffe’s “The Italian”, the very first thing that we seedescribed is a veiled woman: “It was in the church of San Lorenzo atNaples, in the year 1758, that Vincentio di Vivaldi first saw Ellena di Rosalba. The sweetness and fine expression of her voice attracted his attention to herfigure, which had a distinguished air of delicacy and grace; but her face wasconcealed in her veil. So much was he fascinated by the voice, that a mostpainful curiosity was excited as to her countenance, which he fancied mustexpress all the sensibility of character that the modulation of her tonesindicated” (5).
Even without knowing anything about Gothic elements, thisindicates very clearly what the quality and tone of the book are going to belike. Vivaldi’s pursuit of the veiled woman is a signal that his is the pursuitof the mysterious, with the certainty that it will be beautiful. This certainlydoes seem to be a great fascination in the novel; it is a component and often acatalyst for that anxiety which runs throughout. It is this anxiety which causesthe heightening of our emotions; our emotions are heightened as we watch thecharacters’ pursuit of the mysterious; and our curiosity is excited more andmore until we are nearly begging for its gratification.
But Radcliffe heightensour emotions without satisfying our curiosity, or at least not enough. Forexample, the very first chapter establishes a sense of mystery about theassassin in the Church. The Englishman inquires as much for himself as for usabout the assassin. His concern and state of shock invoke our own inquiry intothis odd circumstance and then his Italian friend tells him a mystery withoutactually telling him anything: “‘He sought sanctuary here’,replied the friar; ‘within these walls he may not be hurt'”(2). He makes itclear that there is a story here but that it is long and suspenseful, maybeshocking: “‘It is much too long to be related now; that would occupy aweek; I have it in writing, and will send you the volume'” (3). What it isexactly, or what the tale is going to be is only hinted at in a very curiosityinvoking way: as if it is a secret.
Instead of the Englishman and his Italianfriend going down to the street café and relating the story, the Italianfriend says that he will send him something written the following day and thenthe passage stops. We are tempted, as is the Englishman, by these curiouscircumstances and yet nothing is revealed to us other that the implication thatsoon all will be revealed (after a couple hundred pages). What Radcliffe does isthat she creates our sensation of terror; she suspends our disbelief that muchlonger, building our curiosity and our need to know to a brilliant height andthen-nothing: the story takes a different turn and gratification is postponedwhile our expectation and anticipation is increased. This happens in the verybeginning passage in which Radcliffe starts “The Italian” by providingjust enough information to suck us into her tale and, then, just as we expectpay off, she postpones it a little further while providing just enoughinformation to keep us intrigued.
And, before we know it, we, the reader, areentangled in her Gothic quicksand and greedily reading in search of the secretsshe buries before our eyes. When Vivaldi rushes into the Villa after themysterious cloaked figure that has escaped him, he emerges pale: we knowsomething has happened and await his tale but he tells us nothing, he refuses tosay anything and, thus, we are left suspended in the wake of mystery. Anotherexample when we are suspended in the wake of mystery occurs when Vivaldi andPaolo are in the dungeon imagining the garments lying on the floor to be moving. We do not find out whether or not these garments belong to someone murdereduntil the end of the novel; so this incident leaves us in a state of suspense:’It moves!’ exclaimed Paolo; ‘I see it move!’ as he said which, he started tothe opposite side of the chamber.
Vivaldi stepped a few paces back, and asquickly returned; when, determined to know the event at once, he raised thepoint of his sword, and perceived, beneath, other remains of dress, heaped hightogether, while even the floor below was stained with gore (77). This leads meto speak of imagination, which is such a huge part in telling the story. Thereis such an enormous emphasis on perceptions, belief and feelings. It seems thateverything that happens is filtered through the lens of one of the variouscharacters. There is a constant projection of their thoughts into what ishappening: “As they passed, Paolo observed, that the walls were stainedwith what appeared to be blood.
. . ” (74). It did not necessarily have to beblood, but we see it through Paolo’s perceptions, which leads us to the mostsordid conclusion.
Immediately after this, they see a figure standing in theshadows which disappears by the time they arrive; Vivaldi and Paolo concludethat it must have been an evil spirit to haunt them. Although it can be arguedthat is the sense of the impending danger that gives the book its impetus, it ismore probable that it is the perception of the impending danger, of thegruesome, of the revealing that which is dark, which is the impetus. That is asignificant difference. By doing this, Radcliffe wants to make sure that we arein sync with the characters thought by thought and breath by breath.
A cloudysky cannot just be shown as a cloudy sky, which would seem depressing to some ornot important to others; it has to take the perception and imagination ofVivaldi to make it foreboding. It is also significant that Radcliffepurposefully constructs characters of a susceptible nature, characters that areeasily swayed by appearances and not facts. By creating the character of Vivaldi,it seems that Radcliffe has created a character that is more susceptible thanthe average person to the “sublime” and the “gothic”. Hecalls the strange monk “super-human” on numerous occasions, overlyexcited to prove himself correct. The narrator even says as much, hinting thatafter all the trouble Vivaldi put himself through to discover the identity ofthe monk, a simple, rational explanation would be disappointing.
It seems as ifVivaldi is searching for trouble, in a sense, and he does not shy away fromdangers. It also seems that he enjoys the clandestine nightly excursions to the”arch” where the strange monk appears. To Ellena, just like to Vivaldi,a simple rational explanation would also be disappointing. In volume 2, whenEllena is taken to Spalatro and locked in her room overnight, she begins tosuspect an attempt on her life. In the darkness, she imagines moving shadows andcreaking floors, yet she is unable to confirm her fears. Instead of using hercommon sense by thinking that if they really wanted to her dead, they would havekilled her before she reached the cabin, she prefers the non-rationalexplanation of Spalatro trying to assassinate her.
Like to Vivaldi, to Ellenajust a rational explanation would be disappointing and, to us, the audience,such a rational explanation would decrease our sensation of terror instead ofincreasing it, which would, in turn, be disappointing to our expectations. Ellena’s fears certainly do not seem to be based on evidence. Even when Spalatrobrought her the meal, I was not sure if Ellena’s fears were justified. It seemedthat Ellena was looking for someone to assassinate her, so anything she sawwould be a part of that conspiracy; everything Spalatro did would be suspect andit was. Her susceptible nature often led her into the suspicion out of which thenovel’s Gothic tone is constructed; just like Vivaldi’s and Paolo’s susceptiblenatures lead them to jump to most horrifying conclusions earlier in the novel. When talking about perceptions, it is impossible to omit the distinction betweenthe real and unreal in “The Italian”.
The strand of reality,interwoven with fantasy, seems to be a driving force in the plot. In the episodeinvolving Ellena, her suspicions are confirmed; her fantasy becomes confirmed asreality as her fears about Spalatro’s intentions are confirmed (although notuntil the end). Of notice is also Vivaldi’s constant desire to solidify hisfantasy (getting married) with Ellena; as if the real thing will finallyrestrict the fearful possibilities into a single reality. Yet it is this realityfrom which Vivaldi derives his fearful fantasies. It is this drama between whatis real and unreal that gives the novel its impetus.
For example, when Marchesais speaking to Schedoni, they are both thinking of murder, but both refuse to’say’ it, as if doing so would make it more ‘real’ than merely thinking aboutit.

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