The Italian Summary

The Italian is a 1797 gothic novel about a young nobleman named Vincentio di Vivaldi who falls in love with Ellena di Rosalba, a young woman of apparently humble birth.

  • Vivaldi’s mother, the marchesa, plots with her confessor, the monk Schedoni, to prevent Vivaldi and Ellena’s marriage and has Ellena kidnapped.
  • Vivaldi rescues Ellena from the convent where she has been imprisoned, but the two are separated again when they are arrested by the Inquisition.
  • It is revealed that Schedoni is a murderous former count and Ellena’s uncle. He poisons himself, and Ellena and Vivaldi are finally married.


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Last Updated on March 2, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616

Vincentio di Vivaldi becomes infatuated with a woman named Ellena di Rosalba, whom he sees while attending service at the Church of San Lorenzo. He follows her and her elderly companion, Signora Bianchi, later revealed to be Ellena’s aunt. Seeing an opportunity to escort the two women to their home,...

(The entire section contains 3607 words.)

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Vincentio di Vivaldi becomes infatuated with a woman named Ellena di Rosalba, whom he sees while attending service at the Church of San Lorenzo. He follows her and her elderly companion, Signora Bianchi, later revealed to be Ellena’s aunt. Seeing an opportunity to escort the two women to their home, Vincentio offers Signora his arm to help her walk.

He revisits the villa in hopes of seeing her but is unable to do so. That night, he is wandering through a garden when he is approached by a ghostly figure in monk’s clothing. This figure tells Vivaldi to be wary of visiting the villa again in the future. Due to his love for Ellena, he continues to visit anyway, spurring another visitation from the ghostly figure. Although he doesn’t find out who this ghostly figure is, Vivaldi decides to bypass the warnings by asking for Ellena’s hand in marriage.

Signora Bianchi is initially hesitant at the prospect of marriage but eventually comes around to giving Vivaldi and Ellena her blessing. Vivaldi’s parents, however, are not as supportive. Vivaldi’s mother calls on monk Schedoni to prevent the union of Vivaldi and Ellena.

Signora Bianchi is killed via poison, and Ellena must seek sanctuary at the convent of Santa Maria della Pieta after the funeral. While making preparations, Ellena is suddenly abducted by three masked men and thrown into a closed carriage. She is brought to a convent where she is placed in the care of nuns. Vivaldi, concerned for her safety, goes to the villa to find a servant tied to a pillar and learns about the abduction. Convinced that these strange events may be planned to prevent his marriage, Vivaldi decides to track down the closed carriage.

During his search, Vivaldi comes across a group of pilgrims on their way to a shrine and travels with the group until he arrives at the service Ellena is attending. Disguised as a pilgrim, Vivaldi passes a note to Ellena telling her to meet him later at the gate. They manage to escape and go into hiding as they attempt to escape their pursuers.

Schedoni eventually tracks them down as they almost get married at a chapel and are arrested by warrant of the Holy Inquisition. Ellena is charged with abandoning her duties as a nun, and Vivaldi is charged with aiding her escape. He is imprisoned in Rome, waiting for a future trial.

Schedoni, who is determined to kill Ellena, sneaks into her room and readies his dagger over her sleeping body. He notices a miniature worn around her neck. Ellena is awakened and Schedoni asks about the miniature. When she answers that the miniature is of her father, Schedoni is disturbed at the possibility that he almost killed her daughter.

Schedoni tries to make amends by convincing Vivaldi’s mother to approve of the marriage but is rejected. He then decides to officiate the wedding himself. After a hearing before the tribunal of the Inquisition, Vivaldi is approached by a strange monk who tells him to reveal the true identity of Schedoni to the Inquisition. Vivaldi follows these instructions, and Schedoni is arrested on his way to Rome.

At the trial, much is revealed concerning Schedoni’s history and his involvement with the two lovers. Once known as Count di Marinella, he had his brother assassinated in order to gain his title, estate, and wife. The ghostly figure that visited Vivaldi is revealed to be Father Nicola, who gathered evidence against Schedoni. Schedoni administers a deadly drug to Nicola but dies of the same drug himself. Because of his confession, Vivaldi is set free and is finally able to marry Ellena.


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Last Updated on March 2, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2991

Vincentio di Vivaldi sees Ellena di Rosalba for the first time at the Church of San Lorenzo in Naples. He is so impressed by the sweetness of her voice and the grace of her person that at the end of the service he follows the girl and her elderly companion in the hope of catching a glimpse of the girl’s features. When the elderly woman stumbles and falls, Vivaldi seizes the opportunity to offer her his arm, a gallant gesture that gives him the excuse to accompany the two women to the Villa Altieri, their modest home on an eminence overlooking the Bay of Naples.

The next day, he returns to inquire about the health of the older woman, Signora Bianchi, who receives her guest courteously. Ellena does not appear. Despondent at her absence, Vivaldi inquires of his acquaintances into the girl’s family but learns only that she is an orphan, the niece and ward of her aged relative.

That night, resolved to see Ellena again, he leaves a reception his mother is giving and returns to the Villa Altieri. The hour is late, and only one window is lighted. Through a lattice, he sees Ellena playing on her lute and singing a midnight hymn to the Virgin Mary. Entranced, he draws near the lattice and hears her pronounce his name; but when he reveals himself, the girl hastily closes the lattice and leaves the room. Vivaldi lingers in the garden for some time before returning to Naples. Lost in reverie, he is passing under a shattered archway extending over the road when a shadowy figure in a monk’s robe glides across his path and in a ghostly whisper warns him to beware of future visits to the villa.

Thinking that the warning was given by a rival, he returns the next night in the company of his friend Bonorma. Again, the dark figure appears and utters a sepulchral warning. Later, as the two young men are passing under the arch, the figure shows itself once more. Vivaldi and Bonorma draw their swords and enter the ancient fortress in search of the mysterious visitor. They find no trace of anyone lurking in the ruins.

Still believing that these visitations are those of a rival, Vivaldi decides to end his suspense by making a declaration for Ellena’s hand. Signora Bianchi listens to his proposal and then reminds him that a family as old and illustrious as his own will object to an alliance with a girl of Ellena’s humble station. Vivaldi realizes that she speaks wisely, but with all the fervor of a young man in love, he argues his suit so eloquently that at last Signora Bianchi withdraws her refusal. After Vivaldi makes repeated visits to the villa, a night comes when the aged woman places Ellena’s hand in his and gives them her blessing. To Vivaldi’s great joy, it is decided that the marriage will be solemnized during the coming week.

The Marchese and Marchesa di Vivaldi were not ignorant of their son’s frequent visits at the Villa Altieri. On several occasions, the marchese, a man of great family pride and strict principles, tells his son that marriage to one so far below him in station is impossible. Vivaldi answers by declaring that his affections and intentions are irrevocable. His mother, a haughty and vindictive woman, is likewise determined to end what she regards as her son’s foolish infatuation. Realizing that the young man cannot be moved by persuasion or threats, she summons her confessor and secret adviser, the monk Schedoni, and consults him on measures to separate Ellena and Vivaldi.

Schedoni, a monk at the Convent of the Santo Spirito, is a man of unknown family and origins. His spirit appears haughty and disordered, and his appearance conveys an effect of gloom that corresponds to his severe and solitary disposition. Because of his austere manners, brooding nature, and sinister appearance, he is loved by none, hated by many, and feared by most. Vivaldi dislikes the monk and avoids him, even though he has no presentiment of the fate Schedoni is preparing for him and Ellena.

On the morning after his acceptance as Ellena’s suitor, Vivaldi hastens to the villa. In the darkened archway, the ghostly figure again appears and tells him that death is in the house. Vivaldi is deeply disturbed and hurries on. Upon his arrival, he learns that Signora Bianchi died suddenly during the night. When Beatrice, the old servant, confides her suspicions that her mistress was poisoned, Vivaldi grows even more concerned. His own suspicions fall on Schedoni, and he confronts the monk in the marchesa’s apartment on his return to Venice, but the confessor cleverly parries all the questions Vivaldi puts to him. Vivaldi, apologizing for his conduct and accusing speech, fails to realize that he has made an enemy of Schedoni and that the monk is already planning his revenge.

It is decided that Ellena is to find a sanctuary in the Convent of Santa Maria della Pieta after her aunt’s funeral, and Vivaldi is in agreement with her desire to withdraw to that shelter during her period of mourning. Ellena is packing in preparation for her departure the next day when she hears Beatrice scream in another room. At the same moment, three masked men seize Ellena and carry her from the house. Thrust into a closed carriage, she is driven throughout the night and most of the next day into the mountainous region of Abruzzo. There her captors conduct her to a strange religious establishment where she is turned over to the care of the nuns. Almost distracted, the girl is led to a cell where she gives way to her terror and grief.

Knowing nothing of these events, Vivaldi decides that same night to explore the ruined fortress and to discover, if possible, the secret of the strange visitor he encountered there. Paulo Mendrico, his faithful servant, goes with him. When they are within the archway, the figure of the monk suddenly materializes, this time telling Vivaldi that Ellena departed an hour before. Paulo fires his pistol, but the figure eludes them. Following drops of blood, Vivaldi and Paulo come at last to a chamber into which the figure disappeared. As they enter, the great door shuts behind them. In the chamber, they find only a discarded, bloody robe. During the night they spend as prisoners in the gloomy room, Paulo tells his master of a muffled penitent who appeared at the Church of Santa Maria del Pianto and made a confession apparently so strange and horrible that Ansaldo di Rovalli, the grand penitentiary, was thrown into convulsions. During this recital, they are startled by hearing groans close by, but they see no one. In the morning, the door of the chamber stands open, and Vivaldi and Paulo make their escape.

Alarmed for Ellena’s safety, Vivaldi goes at once to the villa. There he finds Beatrice tied to a pillar and learns from her that her mistress was abducted. Convinced that the strange events of the night are part of a plot to prevent his intended marriage, he again confronts Schedoni at the Convent of the Santo Spirito and would have assaulted the monk if others had not seized the distraught young man and restrained him. That night, Vivaldi accidentally hears from a fisherman that early in the day a closed carriage was seen driving through Bracelli. Hoping to trace the carriage and to find Ellena, he sets off in pursuit, accompanied by the faithful Paulo.

On the fourth day of her imprisonment, Ellena is conducted to the parlor of the abbess, who informs her that she must choose between taking the veil or marrying the person whom the Marchesa di Vivaldi selects as her husband. When Ellena refuses both offers, she is taken back to her cell. Each evening, she is allowed to attend vespers, and there her attention is attracted to Sister Olivia, a nun who tries to reconcile her to the hardships of her confinement. For this reason, perhaps, Sister Olivia is the nun chosen by the abbess to inform Ellena that if she persists in refusing a husband proper to her station, she must take holy orders immediately.

Meanwhile, Vivaldi continues his search for Ellena. On the evening of the seventh day, he and Paulo fall in with a company of pilgrims on their way to worship at the shrine of a convent about a league and a half distant. Traveling with this company, Vivaldi arrives at the convent in time to witness the service at which Ellena is to be made a novitiate. Hearing her voice raised in protest, he rushes to the altar and catches her as she faints. Unable to secure Ellena’s freedom, Vivaldi leaves the convent to try another plan to set her free. Although he does not know it, there is need of haste, because the abbess decides to punish Ellena by confining her in a chamber from which none ever returned alive. Alarmed for the girl’s life, Sister Olivia promises to help her escape from the convent that night.

Dressed in the nun’s veil, Ellena attends a program of music given in honor of several distinguished strangers who are visiting the convent. There Vivaldi, disguised as a pilgrim, passes her a note in which he tells her to meet him at the gate of the nuns’ garden. Guided by Sister Olivia, Ellena goes to the gate, where Vivaldi is waiting with Brother Jeronimo, a monk he bribes to lead them from the convent by a secret path. Brother Jeronimo tries to betray them, however, and Ellena would have been recaptured if an aged monk they disturbed at his solitary prayers did not take pity on them and unlock the last door standing between the lovers and freedom.

Once in the open air, Vivaldi and Ellena descend the mountains to the place where PauIo waits with the horses for their escape. Instead of taking the road toward Naples, the fugitives turn westward toward Aquila. They are resting at a shepherd’s cabin that day when Paulo brings word that they are being pursued by two Carmelite friars. Eluding their pursuers, they ride toward Lake Celano, where Ellena takes refuge for the night in the Ursuline convent and Vivaldi stays in an establishment of Benedictines.

While these events are taking place, the marchese, who knows nothing of his wife’s scheming with Schedoni, is suffering great anxiety over his son’s whereabouts and welfare. The marchesa, on the other hand, is apprehensive only that Ellena will be found and her plans undone. When Schedoni suggests in his sly, indirect fashion that Ellena be put out of the way for good, she is at first horrified by his suggestion. Later, she reconsiders, and eventually she and the sinister monk come to agree that Ellena is to die. Schedoni, who has spies everywhere, is not long in locating the fugitives. As Vivaldi and Ellena are about to be married in the chapel of San Sebastian at Celano, armed men break into the church and arrest the two under a warrant of the Holy Inquisition. Ellena is charged with having broken her nun’s vows and Vivaldi with having aided her escape. Vivaldi, though wounded in his struggle to prevent arrest, is carried to Rome and after a short hearing before the Inquisitor is imprisoned to await future trial and possibly torture to extort a confession. Paulo is also confined.

After the agents of the Inquisition take Vivaldi and Paulo away, Ellena’s guards put her on a waiting horse and set out on a road that leads toward the Adriatic. After traveling with little interruption for two nights and two days, they come to a lonely house on the seashore. There she is turned over to a villainous-looking man whom the guards call Spalatro and locked in a room in which the only furnishing is a tattered mattress on the floor. Exhausted, she falls asleep. Spalatro comes to her room twice during the next day, looking at her with a gaze of impatience and guilt. On one occasion, he takes her to walk on the beach, where she meets Schedoni, whose face is hidden by his cowl. When he speaks to her, Ellena realizes that this monk is neither a friend nor a protector but an enemy, and she faints. She is revived and returned to her room.

Schedoni is determined that Ellena should die that night. When Spalatro confesses pity for the girl and refuses to be the executioner, Schedoni swears to do the deed himself. He goes to the room where the girl is sleeping and stands over her, dagger in hand. Suddenly, he bends to look closely at a miniature she wears about her neck. Agitated, he awakens Ellena and asks her if she knows whose portrait she wears. When she answers that it is the miniature of her father, Schedoni is even more shaken. He is convinced that he has discovered his lost daughter.

Overcome by remorse for his persecution of Ellena and the accusation that exposed Vivaldi to the tortures of the Inquisition, Schedoni tries to make amends. He and Ellena travel as quickly as possible to Naples. After leaving her at the Villa Altieri, the monk hastens to the Vivaldi palace and in an interview with the marchesa begs, without disclosing his connection with Ellena, that objections to Vivaldi’s suit be withdrawn. When the marchesa proves inattentive, he determines to solemnize the nuptials of Vivaldi and Ellena without her consent.

Called a second time before the tribunal of the Inquisition, Vivaldi hears again among those present at the trial the voice that warned him on earlier occasions against his visits to the Villa Altieri. That night, a strange monk visits him in his cell and asks how long he has known Schedoni. The monk instructs Vivaldi to reveal to the Inquisition that Schedoni is actually Count Fernando di Bruno, who lived fifteen years in the disguise of a Dominican monk. He is also to ask that Ansaldo di Rovalli, the grand penitentiary of the Black Penitents, be called to testify to a confession he heard in 1752. When Vivaldi is again brought before the Inquisition, he does as he was told; Schedoni is arrested on his way to Rome to intercede for Vivaldi’s freedom.

At Schedoni’s trial, the mystery that links the sinister father confessor and the two lovers becomes clear. Years before, Schedoni, then a spendthrift younger son known as the Count di Marinella, schemed to possess his brother’s title, his unencumbered estate, and his beautiful wife. He arranged to have his brother, the Count di Bruno, assassinated by Spalatro and contrived the story that the count perished while returning from a journey to Greece. After a proper season of mourning, he solicited the hand of his brother’s widow. When she rejected him, he carried her off by force. Although the lady’s honor was secured by marriage, she looked on her new husband with disdain; in his jealousy, he became convinced that she was unfaithful. One day, returning unexpectedly, he found a visitor with his wife. Drawing his stiletto with the intention of attacking the guest, he struck and killed his wife instead. This is the confession that so agitated the grand penitentiary, for he himself was the guest and for him an innocent woman died.

Further proof is Spalatro’s dying confession, whose death is caused by a wound inflicted by Schedoni. Condemned to die for plotting his brother’s death, Schedoni persists in his declaration that Ellena is his daughter. The mystery is cleared up by Sister Olivia, who had returned to the Convent of Santa Maria della Pieta; she is the unfortunate Countess di Bruno, the sister of Signora Bianchi. Her wound was not mortal, but the report of her death was given out to protect her from her vengeful husband. Wishing to withdraw from the world, she entrusted her daughter by the first Count di Bruno and an infant daughter by the second to Signora Bianchi. The infant died within a year.

Ellena, who knows nothing of this story, was mistaken in her belief that the miniature is that of her father, and it is on her word that Schedoni claims her as his daughter. It is also revealed that Father Nicola, who collected the evidence against Schedoni, was the mysterious monk whose ghostly warnings Vivaldi heard under the arch of the old fortress. Appalled by the father confessor’s villainy, he turned against him after being wounded by Paulo’s pistol on the night of the midnight search.

Schedoni has his final revenge. In some manner, he administers a fatal dose of poison to Father Nicola and then dies of the same mysterious drug. In his last moments, he boasts that he is escaping an ignominious death at the hands of the Inquisition.

Because of Schedoni’s dying confession, Vivaldi is immediately set free. During his imprisonment, the marchesa dies repentant of the harm she plotted against Ellena. Now the marchese, overjoyed to be reunited with his son, withdraws all objections to Vivaldi’s suit. With all doubts of Ellena’s birth and goodness removed, he goes in person to the Convent of Santa Maria della Pieta and asks Sister Olivia for her daughter’s hand in the name of his son. Vivaldi and Ellena are married in the convent church in the presence of the marchese and Sister Olivia. As a mark of special favor, Paulo is allowed to be present when his master and Ellena are married. Were it not for the holy precincts and the solemnity of the occasion, the faithful fellow would have thrown his cap into the air and shouted that this is indeed a happy day.

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