In A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 Through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (1795), an account of a trip through Holland and Germany with her husband in 1794, Ann Radcliffe told of her trip up the Rhine River, where she encountered two Capuchins “as they walked along the shore, beneath the dark cliffs of Boppart, wrapt in the long black drapery of their order, and their heads shrouded in cowls, that half concealed their faces.” She saw them as “interesting figures in a picture, always gloomily sublime.” This vision is commonly believed to have inspired the character of Schedoni, one of the most sinister villains in the genre of the gothic novel. As in her other books, The Italian mingles the wild or idyllic beauty of nature with scenes of nightmare and terror.
The Italian is one of the most skillful and successful examples of the gothic novel, a literary genre whose aim is to astound, to terrify, and to thrill its readers. More controlled and convincing than her earlier The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Radcliffe’s novel is filled with such conventional gothic qualities as a highly melodramatic (and unlikely) plot set in the remote past, a minimal degree of character development, and a painstakingly developed setting and atmosphere.
The plot is a familiar one to readers of the gothic: A mysterious and black-hearted villain, Schedoni, plots against a beautiful damsel, Ellena, who spends most of the novel either imprisoned or in imminent danger of death, while her chivalrous and faithful lover, Vivaldi, struggles against...
(The entire section is 655 words.)