Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Italian: Or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents places the story of two young lovers, Vincentio di Vivaldi and Ellena di Rosalba, in a gothic setting. Ellena is a seamstress, and Vivaldi is the eldest son of an old and noble family. The Marchese and Marchesa di Vivaldi oppose the union so vehemently that Ellena’s life is endangered and Vivaldi is held captive and subjected to torture by the Inquisition. Vivaldi is warned early on by the mysterious archway monk to stay away from the Villa Altieri where Ellena lives. Most likely Schedoni’s agent, the mysterious, cowled figure reappears to repeat his warnings.

Vivaldi asks Signora Bianchi for Ellena’s hand, and the signora accepts with the reservations that their different class positions will cause problems. Soon after, she dies mysteriously. The Vivaldis soon begin trying to persuade their son to abandon Ellena. When he refuses, the Marchesa enlists the aid of her confessor, Father Schedoni, a mysterious monk of whom little is known except that he is of the brotherhood at Santo Spirito.

Vivaldi assumes that Schedoni has caused the death of Ellena’s aunt. When he confronts him about it, he enrages Schedoni and incurs his vengeance. Schedoni is instrumental in causing the many problems for the young couple. Abductions abound in The Italian, the first of which occurs when Ellena is getting ready to go into temporary seclusion with the nuns at Santa Maria della Pieta. She is driven instead to a horrid convent presided over by a wicked abbess who is obviously in the Marchesa’s employ. The abbess confronts Ellena with a choice: either take vows and become a nun or marry whomever the Marchesa chooses for her. She refuses both choices. As a result, she is kept in close confinement in a threatening atmosphere and shown tenderness only by Sister Olivia.

As the narrative pans back and forth between Ellena and Vivaldi, Vivaldi and his servant Paolo also become imprisoned when Paolo shoots at...

(The entire section is 818 words.)