Radcliffe’s capricci: The prisons of the Inquisition in The Italian
Published at the beginning of the age of nationalism and bearing a very telling title, Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1796-7) certainly merits attention in the present volume; especially as it has been identified by contemporary criticism as preoccupied with the conflict between Englishness and southern (particularly Catholic) exoticism, even though it may seem paradoxical for a text featuring Italians exclusively (see Schmitt 1994 and Saglia 1996). What makes it a curious case is the fact that its author, as her biographers point out, had left England only once before the publication of the work, and that was by no means for Italy. In fact, despite being keen on travel and making it a recurring motif in her novels, Ann Radcliffe never visited Italy, nor any other southern country, and throughout her literary career derived knowledge of the South solely from travel accounts and pictorial representations. To use the taxonomy proposed by E.J. Clery in her Introduction to the Oxford edition of the novel, Radcliffe was a tourist “of the armchair variety” (Clery 1998: x) and made use of a number of literary and visual sources when creating the image of the “exotic” Italy; that is, a wild country inhabited, one could think, solely by banditti and the superstitious Catholic folk but at the same time offering picturesque, sublime and beautiful views and a wealth of ancient heritage. On the one hand, her vision of the country was guided by popular travelogues, among which, as Clery suggests, the most...
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