Brady Response

Ann Radcliffe

The Italian


In my response I want to look at the importance of the 'scene' or the 'scenic' in _The Italian_. It is immediately obvious on reading the novel that Radcliffe excels at scene-painting. Moreover, her talent is not limited to rendering landscapes but extends to the depiction in words of a wide variety of "painterly" scenes. In fact, it seems to me that in _The Italian_, at least, Radcliffe uses scenery as a complex device for constructing the moral, psychological, and aesthetic universe of the novel.

The painterly aspect of Radcliffe's writing, I think, may lead it to elude analysis by the techniques we are comfortable with. In the course of reading for this response, I kept running across seemingly contradictory statements about the novel. For example, in the introduction to our (the Oxford) text, Frederick Garber writes, "Radcliffe's novels fit comfortably into the form of the Bildungsroman...." (x) But later on the same page, he notes that "her characters are generalized members of a class, and remain subordinate to the scenes in which they appear." (x) In fact, I think that both of these statements *can* be correct, and we can have a novel that describes the development of character on one hand, while dealing with psychologically 'flat' personae, on the other.

One of the obstacles to reading Radcliffe's scenes may be the development of a convention, the founding of which she influenced greatly, for interpreting the literary appearance of landscape. It is very tempting to use the lens of modern psychology to speak of a relation of simple correspondence between emotional, interior and physical, exterior landscapes in Radcliffe, as Devendra Varma does when he speaks of "her portrayal of the terrible forces of nature reflecting the dark passions of man". (Introduction, p. xii, in _The Italian_, ed. D. Varma. 2 vols. London, 1828; reissued New York, 1968.) And while this probably grasps a basic truth about her technique, I think it oversimplifies the constitutive effect of scenery on character, plot, etc. in _The Italian_.

One aspect of Radcliffe's technique seems better captured by Andrew Wright, when he says "she had the knack of stimulating the reader's own dream-making function, which then took over and supplied the private horrors of each individual imagination." (Andrew Wright, Introduction, to *** p. xiv) When psychology is portrayed through reference to scenery, individuation of character is allowed to occur through a roll-playing function in the reader, which unfolds within the boundaries set out by the text.

Another feature of the technique, I think, is the importance of repetition, and the establishment of something like a domestic relation between scenery and the personality of one or several characters. Through returns, vistas become the home for complexes of feelings.

To see this, I think it will be useful to examine several instances of Radcliffe's scene painting, and to do this "from scratch." I will look at the recurring scenes of the bay at Naples, as viewed from the garden at the villa Altieri. After discussing this series briefly, I'll list several other interesting scenes, which we might consider discussing in class. I'll give long quotations for the villa Altieri scenes, but not for the others.

The bay-scene appears first in Chapter 1, as Vivaldi makes his first clandestine visit to the garden:

"It was nearly midnight, and the stillness that reigned was rather soothed than interrupted by the gentle dashing of the waters of the bay below, and by the hollow murmurs of Vesuvius, which threw up, at intervals its sudden flame on the horizon, and then left it to darkness. The solemnity of the scene accorded with the temper of his mind, and he listened in deep attention for the returning sounds, which broke upon the ear like distant thunder muttering imperfectly from the clouds. The pauses of silence, that succeeded each groan of the mountain, when expectation listened for the rising sound, affected the imagination of Vivaldi at this time with particular awe, and, rapt in thought, he continued to gaze on the sublime and shadowy outline of the shores, and on the sea, just discerned beneath the twilight of the cloudless sky. Along its grey surface many vessels were pursuing their silent course, guided over the deep waters only by the polar star, which burned with steady lustre. The air was calm, and rose from the bay with most balmy and refreshing coolness; it had scarcely stirred the heads of the broad pines that overspread the villa; and bore no sounds but of the waves and the groans of the far-off mountain,-till a chaunting of deep voices swelled from a distance. The solemn character of the strain engaged his attention; he perceived that it was a requiem, and he endeavoured to discover from what quarter it came." (10-11)

Later in the same chapter, Vivaldi and Bonarmo return to the garden and experience the following:

"The night was still, and they now heard, for the first time, murmurs as of a distant multitude; and then the sudden splendor of fireworks broke upon the sky. These arose from a villa on the western margin of the bay, and were given in honor of the birth of one of the royal princes. They soared to an immense height, and, as their lustre broke silently upon the night, it lightened on the thousand up-turned faces of the gazing crowd, illumined the waters of the bay, with every little boat that skimmed its surface, and shewed distinctly the whole sweep of its rising shores, the stately city of Naples on the strand below, and, spreading far among the hills, its terraced roofs crowded with spectators, and the Corso tumultuous with carriages and blazing with torches." (16)

Through these two scenes, birth and death, celebration and funeral, anticipation and memory are invoked and associated with Ellena, in Vivaldi's experience of her. Invoked, however, as impressions after the manner of painting which, like Vivaldi's experience of happiness, makes the reader feel "as if that moment was as an eternity, rendering him independent of all others...." (31)

Next, the landscape absorbs associations with the emotions of the trio of Ellena, Bianchi, and Vivaldi, through their excursions on the water. A beautiful scene from one of these outings is given on p. 37, but as I am interested in the development of a specific scene (i.e. a particular perspective) I won't reproduce it here. One evening, however, while in the pavilion of the villa Altieri, Bianchi "surveyed with languid eyes, the scene that spread before the pavilion. The strong effulgence which a setting-sun threw over the sea, shewing innumerable gaily painted ships, and fishing-boats returning from Santa Lucia into the port of Naples, had no longer the power to cheer her. Even the Roman tower that terminated the mole below, touched as it was with the slanting rays; and the various figures of fishermen, who lay smoking beneath its walls, in the long shadow, or stood in the sunshine on the beach, watching the approaching boats of their comrades, combined a picture which was no longer interesting." (37-8)

...a picture which was no longer interesting to her, that is. Here, birth and death become individualized, and the life of Naples is depicted in its historical perspective and in the minutiae that comprise its current existence. Bianchi, Ellena, and Vivaldi are united as elements in the social life of the town, but the scene evokes different responses in each viewer.

After Ellena has been kidnapped, Vivaldi returns to the scene: "A few fishermen and lazzaroni only were loitering along the strand, waiting for boats from St. Lucia. Vivaldi...paced the edge of the waves, listening to their murmur, as they broke gently at his feet, and gazing upon their undulating beauty, while all consciousness was lost in melancholy reverie concerning Ellena. Her late residence appeared at a distance, rising over the shore. He remembered how often from thence they had together viewed this lovely scene! Its features had now lost their charm; they were colourless and uninteresting, or impressed only mournful ideas. The sea fluctuating beneath the setting sun, the long mole and its light-house tipped with the last rays, fishermen reposing in the shade, little boats skimming over the smooth waters, which their oars scarcely dimpled; these were images that brought to his recollection the affecting evening when he had last seen this picture from the villa Altieri..., seated in the orangery with Ellena and Bianchi...." (106)

Near the end of the novel, the bay-scene returns. While hiding away in the convent of Our Lady of Pity, Ellena resorts to a spot from which she can view the scene:

"as, from beneath the light foliage of the accacias, or the more majestic shade of the plane-trees that waved their branches over the many-colored cliffs of the bay, it brought back to memory, in sad yet pleasing detail, the many happy days she had passed on those blue waters, or on the shores, in the society of Vivaldi and her departed relative Bianchi; and every point of the prospect marked by such remembrance, which the veiling distance stole, was rescued by imagination, and pictured by affection in tints more animated than those of brightest nature." (369)

Here, the visible scene is augmented by memory and imagination. Ellena's watching is a dutiful, methodical, hope-maintaining reconstruction of the personal bonds that gave her life meaning, as they have been written into the landscape of the bay.

In the final chapter of the novel, Ellena and Vivaldi establish their new homestead. Scenery is fundamental to its constitution, and it combines some motifs from the bay-scenes with others from the mountain-scenes elsewhere in the novel. Finally, there is the element of happy ordering: "The style of the gardens, where lawns and groves, and woods varied the undulating surface, was that of England, and of the present day, rather than that of Italy; except "Where a long alley peeping on the main," exhibited such gigantic loftiness of shade, and grandeur of perspective, as characterize the Italian taste." (412)

Other notable instances of the scenic technique in action:

The series of views of the mountains around the convent of San Stefano: 62: Ellena sees the scene in her voyage. It provides a "temporary, though feeble relief in once more looking upon the face of nature" after her confinement.

63: Ellena. The chasm before arriving at the convent. The scene gives her "dreadful pleasure".

90: Ellena. The first scene from her turret. We find that her "mind was capable of being highly elevated, or sweetly soothed, by scenes of nature." And the turret view is like "looking...beyond the awful veil which obscures the Deity, and conceals Him from the eyes of his creatures, dwelling as with a present God in the midst of his sublime works...."

95: Ellena. In conjunction with Tasso, the turret view inspires thoughts of Vivaldi.

116: Vivaldi experiences the scenes from 62, 63. The scenery "was in harmony with the temper of his mind" and produces "pleasing sadness".

123-4: Ellena. Retires to the turret "to soothe her spirits with a view of serene and majestic nature." It is "like music" and has the effect of "breathing peace over the soul". She feels "pleasing melancholy." Actual music begins to be played, and the significance of the scene is complexified by the sudden realization that Vivaldi is the musician. 145: Ellena and Vivaldi: During their escape, the "tranquillity" of the scene provides "an affecting contrast with the tumult and alarm of their minds."

The view of Lake Celano: 158-9 Described in turn by Vivaldi, Ellena, and Paulo. In spite of the fact that Paulo's "spirits...seldom owned the influence of local scenery." (145) these three descriptions might be taken as a model for decomposing the significance of the recurring scenes in the novel into registers of meaning.

Radcliffe's scene painting is not confined to landscape, however. There is indoor scene-painting:

185: The image of the group at the altar at Celano.

dramatic portraiture: 220-23: The several passes between Schedoni and Ellena on the beach

scenic character analysis. 255: Schedoni's insensibility to scenery. 291-2: The Marchesa's relation to scenery in her villa on the bay.

Radcliffe's scenic technique arises in a period when landscape becomes a new and multi-dimensional cultural concern. Many critics note the influence of Burke on her novels, and the sublime aspects of nature are of course crucial. In fact, sometimes Radcliffe seems to be instructing her readers in the proper method of viewing a sublime prospect.

Nicolson's _Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory_ describes a rise in the eighteenth century of the mountainscape as a viable source of aesthetic pleasure. More generally, pure landscape becomes the object of "serious" British art for the first time in this period, as the schools of the "beautiful," the "picturesque" and the "sublime" arise by the end of c18.

I think, however, that rather than merely referring to developments in the theory of landscape painting, Radcliffe's scenic technique experiments boldly with the use of such techniques as a method for achieving complex and original literary effects. Even on the level of private individual experience, landscape can be sympathetic, inspiring, or elevating; and when vistas are invested with meaning for a group of people, the scenic technique can generate an extremely nuanced resonance.


Topics for discussion

1. "Melancholy Pleasure." This concept is important to both The Monk and The Italian. What are the differences in treatment? Similarly, with

2. The "veil," and unveiling.

3. "Solemnity" as a keyword for distinguishing Radcliffe from Lewis?

4. The title, the novelistic frame, and statements on the novel. Who is "The Italian" or doesn't the title refer to a person? The only character of the novel who is explicitly called "the Italian" is the knowledgeable man of the preface, who explains to his boisterously scandalized English friend the social convention of giving sanctuary to criminals in Catholic churches, and who provides him with the manuscript which makes up the main body of the novel.

To give this man the title role in the novel places extreme emphasis on the little we are told about him, and on the preface itself. Does it also work to keep the preface in the foreground, in contrast with the way that the prefaces of Les Liasons tended to vanish for (many) readers once the excitement of the story began?

Assuming that Radcliffe emphasizes the preface through the title, how do we interpret the following passage:

"The interior of this edifice had nothing of...shewy ornament and general splendor...but it exhibited a simplicity and grandeur of design, considerably more interesting to persons of taste, and a solemnity of light and shade much more suitable to promote the sublime elevation of devotion." (2)

Its tone suggests an application outside of architecture, and the complex/simple distinction does apply to Shedoni's evil and intricate reasonings versus the straightforward, sensibile responses of Vivaldi and Ellena. Also, consider the following passage:

"The Daughters of Pity excelled in music; not in those difficulties of art, which display florid graces, and intricate execution, but in such eloquence of sound as steals upon the heart, and awakens its sweetest and best affections. It was probably the well-regulated sensibility of their own minds, that enabled these sisters to diffuse through their strains a character of such finely-tempered taste...." (301)

If the passage from the preface is an aesthetic manifesto, who is the figure of "shewy ornament" and "florid graces, and intricate execution"?

5. Vivaldi and Ellena and the question of whether the novel can fit "comfortably into the form of the Bildungsroman...." (above)

Nelson Smith, in "Sense, Sensibility and Ann Radcliffe" (Studies in English Literature, Autumn 1973, 577-590) argues that Radcliffe's novels work to introduce a criticism of excessive sensibility. They contain characters guilty of that defect and over the course of the story, chasten them to accept a world of common sense. In this way, Austen is in sympathy with Radcliffe, rather than opposed to her. Smith's argument centers around _Udolpho_, but it is interesting to apply it to _The Italian_. Doing this, it becomes striking how much stronger and more mature Ellena is than Vivaldi. He is the one who moves from a hyperimaginative state in which he is likely to seek explanations for strange events in the realm of the supernatural to a condition of "calm, heroic grandeur" (305) and common sense. And it is he whom Schedoni admonishes for his "susceptibility" (397).

Does Vivaldi develop? Or is the "virtuous indignation" that he feels in the prisons of the Inquisition and that give "a loftiness, a calm heroic grandeur to his mind" (305) too sudden a change from his boyish character up to that point? Is there a change in Ellena? How about Schedoni?

6. Sympathy.

We spoke about the possibility of sympathizing with Ambrosio last week. What about Schedoni? William Coleman, in _On the Discrimination of Gothicisms_ (New York: Arno, 1980), divides the Gothic into three types, and this division may help to phrase the question of sympathy. The three types are enlightenment gothicism, gothicism of sensibility, and romantic gothicism. A quick summary of this division will make clear the relevance to issues of sympathy with villains.

For Coleman, enlightenment gothicism posits a universe that is basically good and potentially under the control of man. In this mode, there are antagonistic evil characters which are sources of fear. However, due to the fundamental assumptions about the world, the villain is an abberation, and the novels of this type are not interested to generate sympathy with or even understanding of these characters.

Gothicism of sensibility, Coleman says, overturns the notion of a benevolent universe governable by man. The novels do this either by showing the mind of man (or woman) to be weak and prone to being deceived, or by depicting the universe as a malevolent system, ruled by the forces of evil. In this tradition, the villain plays an ambiguous role. Especially in novelistic worlds that are fundamentally malevolent, the villain is often an *instrument* of evil, and so is both victimizer and victim. Here, sympathy becomes possible, and the villain may become the object of psychological analysis.

Coleman's formulation of romantic gothicism is more complex. Let it suffice to say that in romantic gothicism, the villain becomes a center of fascination.

Coleman's examples of enlightenment gothicism include Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Reeve's The Old English Baron, Smollett's Ferdinand Count Fathom, and many of Scott's works (but not the Bride of Lammermore). Gothicism of sensibililty includes the bulk of what most people seem to think of as the body of the Gothic. All of Radcliffe's famous novels, The Monk, Melmoth the Wanderer, the Bride of Lammermore, and Byron's Manfred. Romantic gothicism includes Wordsworth's The Borderers, Shelley's The Cenci, and M. Shelley's Frankenstein.

A great weakness of his division for our purposes is that so many of the novels we think of as Gothic fall under the middle category of the gothicism of sensibility. However, the field of the Gothic of sensibility might be seen as spread out between the enlightenment and romantic gothicisms, and then differences and tensions between Radcliffe and Lewis might be seen along these lines, as well as along the female/male, terror/horror lines that Chris and Zack introduced last week.