Friday, October 12, 2012

The Italian Readalong, Week 2

Wow, things sure got exciting!  I should not have picked the end of chapter 6 as a stopping place; I'm dying to know what happens next and instead I have to stop and write a blog post.

Summary so far: Vivaldi takes to the road to search for Ellena, figuring that she must be in a convent somewhere.  Luckily he just happens to find the incredibly remote convent where she is imprisoned!  Olivia aids Ellena to escape (I am quite sure we will see more of Olivia later on).  The rescue is a suspense-filled business, and several times they are nearly caught.  Finally Ellena consents to marry Vivaldi, but just as they're getting started, the henchmen of the feared Inquisition show up and arrest them all, accusing Ellena of being a nun who has forsaken her vows.  Everyone is dragged off to Rome to be tortured.

I really like Ellena.  Unlike an awful lot of 18th-century heroines (Evelina, I'm looking at you), Ellena is intelligent and has a mind of her own.  She loves Vivaldi, but is not about to take any action that she considers to be wrong, and she is unwilling to marry him until she has his parents' approval; she does not want to force herself in where she is not wanted.  She's very worried about the future, but she stays calm and rational. 

I found myself comparing Ellena with Fanny Burney's Evelina, who is also ravishingly beautiful and angelically good.  Evelina's virtue, however, chiefly lies in the fact that she never does anything.  The strongest action she ever takes is to assure her true love that she never did something that he thinks she did.  Evelina is completely passive and lets others make decisions for her.  Ellena's situation is quite similar to Evelina's (if a teensy bit more dramatic) but she reacts to it completely differently.

As for Vivaldi--I have to tell you, I spent the last several chapters deciding that Vivaldi is kind of a ninny.  He's a nice boy and very loyal, and he rescues Ellena--and then spends all his time analyzing her every word and expression for evidence that she doesn't love him anymore.  There are constant paroxysms of grief and wailing, as if he hasn't noticed that Ellena might have other things to worry about!  But it looks like standing up to the Inquisition is going to be the making of this boy.  This is his trial by fire, and (one assumes) he'll come out of it a man, having grown through adversity into a worthy husband for Ellena:
His passions, thus restrained, seemed to become virtues, and to display themselves in the energy of courage and fortitude. His soul became stern and vigorous in despair, and his manner and countenance assumed a calm dignity, which seemed to awe, in some degree, even his guards.  (p.198)
Radcliffe has a moral message or two to pass on to us in her novel.  If Ellena is a model of firmness in adversity, and Vivaldi is going to show us how to develop that courage, the Marchesa is our Awful Warning.  Having spent her life demanding gratification of her whims and developing her vanity and pride in the things of the world, she is unprepared to withstand temptation.  Schedoni, who is supposed to be her guide in Christian faith and virtue, suggests that she have Ellena murdered--and she is perilously close to consenting.  She and Schedoni rationalize a murder as the only just response to the terrible crime of marrying a boy without his parents' permission:
She mused, and hesitated. Her mind was not yet familiar with atrocious guilt; and the crime which Schedoni had suggested, somewhat alarmed her. She feared to think, and still more to name it; yet, so acutely susceptible was her pride, so stern her indignation, and so profound her desire of vengeance, that her mind was tossed as on a tempestuous ocean, and these terrible feelings threatened to overwhelm all the residue of humanity in her heart. Schedoni observed all its progressive movements, and, like a gaunt tyger, lurked in silence, ready to spring forward at the moment of opportunity. (p.168)

I'm really wondering: did someone from the abbey turn them in to the Inquisition?  Or is Schedoni seriously planning to take his revenge on Vivaldi by having him tortured or even killed?  I can quite see that he'd be more than happy to turn Ellena over to the Inquisition, but I would think that the Marchesa won't be too happy with Schedoni if Vivaldi suffers.  Surely this has got to be Schedoni's doing, but it seems like he's going much too far.  I can't wait to find out.


Teresa said...

Definitely, Ellena is my favourite character. I really like the fact that she stands up against Vivaldi (who is her saviour) for what she thinks is right. I understand that she doesn't want to be forced into a family that tried to imprison her... but also, right now Vivaldi wants to get marry, not only because he loves Ellena, but because of a safety matter (and it's not that romantic, isn't it?).
ALso, the Inquisition? I had no idea it was still going on at this time! (funny enough, I'm from Spain, where the Inquisition was also present then)
I fear Schedoni thinks he has a free hand to do what he wants and maybe he'll torture Vivaldi. But what are they going to do with Ellena? That's what I'm wondering! Also, I have the secret hope that the Marchese will come to his senses once he finds out what his son has been through.

Jean said...

You know, as far as I can figure out the Inquisition was not very active in Rome in the 18th century, but it did exist. It looks like things slowed down a lot soon after Galileo talked with them in 1633. There was quite a famous case in 1858 that fueled anti-Papal sentiment. The office continued in existence right up until Vatican II but it doesn't seem to have done much in the way of inquisiting for the last few hundred years or so. It's really hard to tell from information online, though.

The Spanish Inquisition is a bit of a different case and was actually dissolved in 1834 by the queen. It had been in decline for a century or so by then.

However, I'm pretty sure Ann Radcliffe never let a little thing like realism and historical accuracy get in the way of a really good scene of Catholic clergy evilness.