I read this book in Japanese translation years ago, and recently read it again in the original language in order to write a paper. And I can say, both times the book gave me a good, healthy amount of thrill and joy.
Published in 1796, "The Italian" became an instant success, cementing the fame of Ann Radcliffe among the liteary circle. Her name has been already well-known with her previous work "The Mysteries of Udolpho" two years before, but in my book this follow-up is better than the other. Of course, it depends on your view which is superior, but it is commonly agreed that Ann Radcliffe's position in the history of English literature is secured by those two Gothic classics, which clearly gave inspiration to Jane Austen, who wrote the joyful "Northanger Abbey."
The story is rather simple in the beginning. It tells of a romantic love of young dashing nobleman Vivaldi in Naples, who falls in love with a girl Ellena. But his plan of marriage is soon interrupted by the vicious monk Schedoni. Then ensue abduction, murder (attempted or not), and the Inquisition. There are lot of suspense, terror, and thrill that come from the fluent narrative of Radcliffe, who knows how to engage the readers' attention. (And thankfully, "The Italian" is free from any lengthy poems that are found aplenty among "Udolpho.")
To be sure, the third part of the book is damaged by its too complicated relations between characters, and too rapid pen of the author to wrap up the events with rational explanations about the mysterious things in the first part of the book, but the whole book manages to sustain our interest to the end. Radcliffe's effusive descriptions of landscapes (with a little sentimental touch) found in "Udolpho" are gone (but not completely), and the plot is tightly knit so that we can enjoy the fast-paced adventure of the hero and the heroine. The best part of the book is, probably, the middle section where the hero, with his comic relief side-kick, tries to escape from the sinister convent where the heroine is confined to be forced to take a veil. It's a real page-turner which would put many of today's bestselling author to deserved shame.
One of the best Gothic novels ever written, "The Italian" is still a gripping tale. Most regrettabe thing is that the author Radcliffe stopped writing totally after this book for the rest of her life (she died in 1823). Considering the fact that she had never been to Italy (she travelled abroad only once, in Netherland and Germany), and that her sublime landscapes are proof of her amazingly imaginative power, her early retirement should be lamented by all of us. But we must be content with what is left. Enjoy this one.
THE PENGUIN EDITION published in 2000 has 10 pages of excerpts from comtemporary reviews, which would help readers with academic purpose.