Adventures Among Books eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 217 pages of information about Adventures Among Books.
“persons of no mean judgment” preferred “The Romance of the Forest.”  With these amateurs I would be ranked.  The ingenuity and originality of the “Romance” are greater:  our friend the skeleton is better than that Thing which was behind the Black Veil, the escapes of Adeline are more thrilling than the escape of Emily, and the “Romance” is not nearly so long, not nearly so prolix as “Udolpho.”

The roof and crown of Mrs. Radcliffe’s work is “The Italian” (1797), for which she received 800 pounds. {6} The scene is Naples, the date about 1764; the topic is the thwarted loves of Vivaldi and Ellena; the villain is the admirable Schedoni, the prototype of Byron’s lurid characters.

“The Italian” is an excellent novel.  The Prelude, “the dark and vaulted gateway,” is not unworthy of Hawthorne, who, I suspect, had studied Mrs. Radcliffe.  The theme is more like a theme of this world than usual.  The parents of a young noble might well try to prevent him from marrying an unknown and penniless girl.  The Marchese Vivaldi only adopts the ordinary paternal measures; the Marchesa, and her confessor the dark-souled Schedoni, go farther—­as far as assassination.  The casuistry by which Schedoni brings the lady to this pass, while representing her as the originator of the scheme, is really subtle, and the scenes between the pair show an extraordinary advance on Mrs. Radcliffe’s earlier art.  The mysterious Monk who counteracts Schedoni remains an unsolved mystery to me, but of that I do not complain.  He is as good as the Dweller in the Catacombs who haunts Miriam in Hawthorne’s “Marble Faun.”  The Inquisition, its cells, and its tribunals are coloured

      “As when some great painter dips
   His pencil in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse.”

The comic valet, Paulo, who insists on being locked up in the dungeons of the Inquisition merely because his master is there, reminds one of Samuel Weller, he is a Neapolitan Samivel.  The escapes are Mrs. Radcliffe’s most exciting escapes, and to say that is to say a good deal.  Poetry is not written, or not often, by the heroine.  The scene in which Schedoni has his dagger raised to murder Ellena, when he discovers that she is his daughter, “is of a new, grand, and powerful character” (Scott), while it is even more satisfactory to learn later that Ellena was not Schedoni’s daughter after all.

Why Mrs. Radcliffe, having reached such a pitch of success, never again published a novel, remains more mysterious than any of her Mysteries.  Scott justly remarks that her censors attacked her “by showing that she does not possess the excellences proper to a style of composition totally different from that which she has attempted.”  This is the usual way of reviewers.  Tales that fascinated Scott, Fox, and Sheridan, “which possess charms for the learned and unlearned, the grave and gay, the gentleman and clown,” do not deserve to be dismissed with a sneer by people who have never read them. 

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Adventures Among Books from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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