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