Places: The Italian

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1797

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: 1758

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedAbbey of San Stefano

Abbey Italian, Theof San Stefano. Religious complex used as a prison to incarcerate the central female character at the behest of an evil noblewoman. This structure serves two important purposes within the novel and supplements the themes of the work. First, the abbey is depicted as a place of coercive power and spiritual and physical darkness. It explains the criminality of the villain, an evil monk, as the environment within which his criminality was encouraged to grow. This representation is furthered later in the novel when the villain himself is incarcerated within the dungeons of the Inquisition. Virtually every religious person encountered in this novel is either a criminal or lacks the moral fiber to oppose criminality. This representation of religious criminality is to be expected in the eighteenth century English gothic novel since anti-Catholicism was deeply ingrained in English culture.

For instance, the novel opens with a scene in which English travelers in Naples are touring a darkened Catholic church. There they see an assassin who has been given sanctuary inside the building. This opening scene prepares the reader for the other religious institutions encountered in the novel and demonstrates that her novel is hardly a sociological study but rather an English fantasy of Italian vice and Catholic corruption.

The dark Abbey of San Stefano serves another purpose, that of illustrating the sublimity of the natural landscape. The incarcerated heroine is sometimes permitted to wander through the abbey, and frequently looks out on the landscape, expatiating on its beauties. She looks out on the mountainside and is spiritually reenergized. In turn, the sublimity of the landscape enables this character to endure the hardships she suffers.

*Southern Italy

*Southern Italy. In this novel, a region of striking natural beauties: towering mountains and sheer cliffs, glowing moonlit nights, glimmering lakes, and sheltering forests. For much of the novel, the central characters flee through this landscape, sometimes meeting rural inhabitants, sometimes dodging religious pilgrims, but always aware of the landscape through which they pass. In part, this landscape serves to illustrate the beauty of the natural world and to explain the inherent virtue of the rural people. For instance, the young hero and heroine come across an aged shepherd who provides them with the best food and drink he has and who shelters them from pursuers. As the novel suggests, this character’s kindness results in part from such beautiful surroundings. In fact, throughout most of Radcliffe’s novels, and this one in particular, danger is almost never to be feared in such surroundings. Danger only comes to the characters in this novel when they take shelter in towns and cities.


*Naples. Major city in southern Italy, sketchily described in the novel as a town of villas, churches, and beachside huts. Radcliffe’s Naples is populated almost entirely by three sorts of people: a closed circle of rich and overbearing noblemen and-women, oppressive clergy, and happy albeit poor fishermen. Naples is barely described otherwise. The villas frequently have surrounding walls and central gardens and are tastefully decorated, the churches are decorated with statuary and vividly colored murals, and the huts of the fishermen are appropriately shabby. This representation of Naples illustrates Radcliffe’s contention of the inequities of Italian society, which is dominated by nobles and clergy and is oppressive to the less fortunate. In Naples, a poor woman falls in love with a young nobleman, and the setting furthers the difficulties of this relationship. The young people are isolated within this environment and are well aware that those with power are all too eager to split their relationship apart.

BibliographyEllis, Kate Ferguson. “ ‘Kidnapped Romance’ in Ann Radcliffe.” In The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Discusses the gothic in terms of domestic relations. Ellis sees Schedoni as fulfilling his own wishes to be first in a family circle by insinuating himself into the Marchesa’s confidence. See also herein Ellis’ chapter “Otranto Feminized: Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, and Sophia Lee.”Flaxman, Rhoda. “Radcliffe’s Dual Modes of Vision.” In Fetter’d or Free?: British Women Novelists, 1670-1815, edited by Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986. Recognizes Radcliffe as developing a “new descriptive mode and technique,” that mode and technique including something akin to cinematography.Hennelly, Mark M., Jr. “The Slow Torture of Delay: Reading The Italian.” Studies in Humanities 14, no. 1 (June, 1987): 1-17. Explores Radcliffe’s technique of suspense in the Inquisition segment of the novel.Howells, Coral Ann. “The Pleasure of the Woman’s Text: Ann Radcliffe’s Subtle Transgressions in The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian.” In Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited by Kenneth W. Graham. New York: AMS Press, 1939. Concludes that Radcliffe’s interest lies in the subtle disruptions of the conventions of sentimental novels.Murray, E. B. Ann Radcliffe. New York: Twayne, 1972. An excellent overview of all Radcliffe’s novels; contains long passages from obscure eighteenth century novels. Provides psychological and ethical perspectives on The Italian.Ronald, Ann. “Terror-Gothic: Nightmare and Dream in Ann Radcliffe and Charlotte Brontë.” In The Female Gothic, edited by Juliann E. Fleenor. Montreal: Eden Press, 1983. Discusses archetypal images in works of Radcliffe and Brontë.Ruff, William. “Ann Radcliffe: Or, The Hand of Taste.” In The Age of Johnson: Essays Presented to Chauncey Brewster Tinker, edited by F. W. Hilles. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1949. Discusses The Italian, the “novel of taste,” as Radcliffe’s most significant contribution to English letters.Todd, Janet. “Posture and Imposture: The Gothic Manservant in Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian.” In Men by Woman, edited by Janet Todd. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981. Analyzes the character of Paolo and shows how Radcliffe created him to embody ideal qualities of a manservant.Varma, Devendra P. The Gothic Flame, Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England. London: Arthur Barker, 1957. In the section on Radcliffe, Varma observes the structure of Radcliffe’s novels, her explanations of the supernatural occurrences, and her ability to create suspense.
Categories: Places