The Italian

Monika Mezyk

In Ann Radcliffe's "The Italian", the very first thing that we see described is a veiled woman: "It was in the church of San Lorenzo at Naples, 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 her figure, which had a distinguished air of delicacy and grace; but her face was concealed in her veil. So much was he fascinated by the voice, that a most painful curiosity was excited as to her countenance, which he fancied must express all the sensibility of character that the modulation of her tones indicated" (5).Even without knowing anything about Gothic elements, this indicates very clearly what the quality and tone of the book are going to be like. Vivaldi's pursuit of the veiled woman is a signal that his is the pursuit of the mysterious, with the certainty that it will be beautiful. This certainly does seem to be a great fascination in the novel; it is a component and often a catalyst for that anxiety which runs throughout.

It is this anxiety which causes the heightening of our emotions; our emotions are heightened as we watch the characters' pursuit of the mysterious; and our curiosity is excited more and more until we are nearly begging for its gratification. But Radcliffe heightens our emotions without satisfying our curiosity, or at least not enough. For example, the very first chapter establishes a sense of mystery about the assassin in the Church. The Englishman inquires as much for himself as for us about the assassin. His concern and state of shock invoke our own inquiry into this odd circumstance and then his Italian friend tells him a mystery without actually telling him anything:"'He [the assassin] sought sanctuary here', replied the friar; 'within these walls he may not be hurt'"(2).He makes it clear that there is a story here but that it is long and suspenseful, maybe shocking:"'It is much too long to be related now; that would occupy a week; I have it in writing, and will send you the volume'" (3).What it is exactly, or what the tale is going to be is only hinted at in a very curiosity invoking way: as if it is a secret.

Instead of the Englishman and his Italian friend going down to the street caf? and relating the story, the Italian friend says that he will send him something written the following day and then the passage stops. We are tempted, as is the Englishman, by these curious circumstances and yet nothing is revealed to us other that the implication that soon all will be revealed (after a couple hundred pages). What Radcliffe does is that she creates our sensation of terror; she suspends our disbelief that much longer, building our curiosity and our need to know to a brilliant height and then-nothing: the story takes a different turn and gratification is postponed while our expectation and anticipation is increased.

This happens in the very beginning passage in which Radcliffe starts "The Italian" by providing just enough information to suck us into her tale and, then, just as we expect pay off, she postpones it a little further while providing just enough information to keep us intrigued. And, before we know it, we, the reader, are entangled in her Gothic quicksand and greedily reading in search of the secrets she buries before our eyes. When Vivaldi rushes into the Villa after the mysterious cloaked figure that has escaped him, he emerges pale: we know something has happened and await his tale but he tells us nothing, he refuses to say anything and, thus, we are left suspended in the wake of mystery. Another example when we are suspended in the wake of mystery occurs when Vivaldi and Paolo 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 murdered until 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 to the opposite side of the chamber. Vivaldi stepped a few paces back, and as quickly returned; when, determined to know the event at once, he raised the point of his sword, and perceived, beneath, other