Salvator Rosa in French Literature: From the Bizarre to the Sublime (Studies in Romance Languages)

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In a revealing article Margaret Hunt has studied the evolution of this genre. The gaze of the English tourist occupies a position of self-validating superiority, an outlook that tends to highlight differences rather than similarities. This offers the 'English' characters the possibility to occupy a hegemonic position entirely constructed at the expense of the alien object and through a sustained negotiation with it.

In The Italian such a position is constantly reasserted in the tourist's evaluation of the landscape, the people, and other local phenomena. Schedoni and Italy correspond to a world of otherness that has little in common with 'our' world and is both an attractive, exotic land and a source of endless menaces. Because it is so distant from the norm, the protagonists can observe and judge Italy, but they can never be entirely free of the risks contained in the encounter with it.

Moreover, tensions and exchanges between positions of dominance as present in the interplay of glances between Vivaldi and Schedoni prevent the text from simply being a rewriting of the prologue. Eyes take part in a conflict between continuously shifting positions of subject and object. Each situation questions the initial confrontation and renegotiates the hierarchy between cultural identities as it nevertheless works towards a separation of cultural enclaves.

For example, when she is imprisoned in the convent, Ellena takes part in one of the musical performances of the nuns. During the concert the heroine's eyes wander from object to object, moving from the ornaments of the hall to the imposing figure of the Abbess, then from the "gay colouring and airy elegance" of the lay guests to the "dark drapery of the ecclesiastics".

Catholic liturgy is figured here at its most theatrical and performative. Deprived of all religious meaning, this rite stands as pure sensual spectacle, visual and aural enjoyment at the same time. Yet this episode is also crossed by numerous signs of anxiety, such as "the solemn character of the institution" , the towering presence of the Abbess, or the dark clothes of the monks. The convent of San Stefano is set in the middle of a Salvator Rosa landscape. The natural sublime surrounds and overwhelms Ellena while she is being brought there, so that she gives in to the ambiguous sensations it inspires.

Therefore, the oxymoronic "dreadful pleasure" 63 she experiences in looking from the window of her carriage turns into an apprehension of real danger and oppression: " this emotion was heightened into awe, when she perceived that the road led to a slight bridge, which, thrown across the chasm at an immense height, united two opposite cliffs, between which the whole cataract of the river descended.

Miles, ; also Morris. Ellena is figuratively 'swallowed' by the landscape and eventually by the convent: "Perched high among the cliffs of a mountain, which might be said to terminate one of the jaws of this terrific gorge The imagery of swallowing reveals the anxiety implicit in the Gothic sublime and particularly in the dangerous outcome of female desire for sublime otherness and its masculine, patriarchal connotations. The country and its culture are in fact traversed by similar forces of oppression and containment as when, later in the novel, Vivaldi is 'swallowed' by the Roman prisons of the Inquisition.

This passage is frequently quoted as it embodies a response to landscape with all the codified reactions to it. On the top of the tower, Ellena obviously occupies a position of self-assurance, and her eyes dominate the sublime spectacle so that she can organize it through description and, above all, inform it with the appropriate meanings..

Chapter 5 - The material sublime

This is in fact a cultural reading of the landscape enabling Ellena to position herself in it: "with a mind thus elevated, how insignificant would appear to her the transactions, and the sufferings of this world! How poor the boasted power of man! Nevertheless, the landscape she is enthusing over is the very natural obstacle that keeps her imprisoned.

It is the same dreadful gorge that swallowed her on being brought there. Such double-edged nature of the sublime reveals the problematic aspects of the Italian world in this novel. It is recognizable and codifiable, thus it becomes familiar; yet, it always implies also its opposite, dangerous, uncanny difference. It appears to me that the otherness of Italy as both landscape and culture is an unstable construct moving within the dialectics delimited by Schedoni and the sublime on the one hand, and Ellena and Vivaldi on the other.

This reaches its climax with the Inquisition scenes in the novel, where Vivaldi lies at the mercy of the sublime in its most terrifying embodiment. Therefore, when Vivaldi arrives at the place of the Inquisition in Rome passing by some imposing ancient ruins, his response to the impressive scene is immediate: " Vivaldi could not behold with indifference the grandeur of these reliques The effect, however, lasts only briefly "the illusion was transient" as the sublime regains its oppressive tones.

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Once inside, Vivaldi is shrouded by darkness and becomes completely helpless. His initial outburst of indignation, "Can this be human nature! But such appeals to external order and values remain ineffectual within the lawlessness of Italy. In this dark world where everything is veiled or hidden behind doors, walls, and curtains, the hero can only formulate suppositions: "Vivaldi conjectured, that in this chamber they were preparing for him the instruments, which were to extort a confession" In other words, it pursues the same strategy sketched in the prologue.

The English invasive eye tries to penetrate Italian sublimity but remains caught in the 'looking back' of its cultural antagonists, the assassin, Schedoni, and the Inquisitor. Vivaldi, like the curious tourist in the prologue, is a voyeur that by a quick turning of the cultural focus becomes object of both vision and power. But because this system does not form a sealed-off enclosure, Italy is not simply a silent other.

How to Improve your Italian - For speakers of other Romance Languages

For example, in recognition of his loyalty, Vivaldi offers Paolo independence which the servant vehemently rejects, choosing to stay with his master. The lower order recognizes its need for the higher, as the guarantee of true freedom. The proper lord is a benevolent authority who controls his employee with love and kindness. As Todd says, "Paolo represents a fantasy of service, an exaggeration of the component in the sentimental novel" What follows as the concluding scene of the novel is a carnival. Paolo becomes the master of revels, as sort of lord of misrule, who in his joy confuses all natural and syntactical order and hierarchy.

The scene is a celebration of language and imagination without meaning. Yet, like all carnivals, as Kilgour points out,. Schedonic, authority ensuring its containment. This place is described through a series of well-known devices: the picturesque nature that circumscribes it "groves of various-coloured granites Still, as Anne Mellor has remarked Radcliffean Gothic never views the home as a site of stability, for its discourse rather "subverts the bourgeois domestic ideology of the late eighteenth century, the sentimental vision of the private home as an earthly paradise of virtue, love and peace" This subversion subtly emerges in the closing pages where sublime nature seems domesticated and subdued into trained, Capability Brown landscape: in the mansion "the style of gardens, where lawns and groves, and woods varied the undulating surface, was that of England, and of the present day, rather than of Italy" Familiarity seems to have staved off the threatening places of the other culture, this English garden concluding and resolving the cultural conflicts between Englishness and Italianness.


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The harmony of the scene is broken by an intrusive presence. Although the sublime and its agents have apparently been defeated, somewhere in the garden an avenue of tall trees in the Italian style renews the shivers of the sublime by casting its "gigantic loftiness of shade" over the surrounding orderly enclosure.

Hunt, Margaret, Journal of British Studies Karl, Frederick R. London: Thames and Hudson. Kilgour, Maggie, The Rise of the Gothic Novel. London and New York: Routledge. Lewis, Matthew [], The Monk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mellor, Anne K, Romanticism and Gender. Miles, Robert, Gothic Writing A Genealogy.


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  • Morris, David B, Punter, David, London and New York: Longman. Radcliffe, Ann [], The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents.

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      Text Bibliography Author. Full text. Moreover, it is Vivaldi, and not Ellena, who finds himself an enthusiast given to superstitious imagination: This displacement of the predisposition towards the phantasmagoric to the male charcter subtly and critically changes the circumstances of the female Gothic sublime in The Italian. The zeal which leads to martyr- dom is but a type of that ardour of self- devotion which aspires to preeminence ; less than that never led to immortality in any line.

      Pascoli, Vita di Salv. Then it was that he knew, in the lakes of his childhood, the Avernus and the Acheron of Homer; and saw, in the stunted underwoods which had sheltered his truant head from parental search, the groves where Virgil sent Jneas to seek his golden branch. The grotto which had many a time screened his fervid brow from the noontide ardour of a Neapolitan sun, he now might desire to be- hold as the vaults which had once re-echoed to the oracles of the Cumean Sibyl ; and the ruins so unconsciously sketched with his burned sticks, " Le colonne spezzate ed i rotti marmi," S.

      It was then he committed to his capacious me- mory that vast store of antique lore, which diffused an elegant and classical character over his greater pictures and graver poems, and which so curiously and so strongly con- trast these productions with those lighter and more fantastic productions of his pen and his pencil, which now place him at the head of the " Romantic" school of Italy, a 62 LIFE AND TIMES worthy associate with Shakspeare and with Byron.

      The rigid rules of college for- malities cut him short in that golden career, from which " fate and metaphysical aid" were invoked to withdraw him. He was now obliged to pass, by a violent transition, from the harmonizing humanities, to a barbarous and sophistical philosophy. Barbara and Baralipton were now thundered upon ears made up to the melody of Ovid and Sannazzaro ; and the ticklish doubts of Averroes were offered to a mind whose own were already of a much more deep and perilous character.

      The transition from poetry to logic, from all that brightens the imagination to all that could cloud the in- tellect, was too violent to be effectual.

      Italian Literature

      It was throwing a cart-harness on the back of a war-horse while the trumpet sounded a charge. The Institute, in speaking of the system of Kant, and of those which have sprung from it among his disciples and successors, observes, VOL.

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      Athanasius were alike in exclusive pos- session of every orthodox mind, as they had been for many centuries ; and Christian monks, and monkish laics reared in their seminaries, were the zealous disciples of the heathen philosopher. However much parti- cular sects might differ upon their knotty futilities, they were all, Scotists and Tho- mists, in accordance to coerce the human understanding, to blend scholastic metaphysics with church mysteries, and to defend the unintelligible dogmas of the one by the in- "Pour nous, nous ne pouvons y voir que le renverse- ment de toutes les methodes d'une saine philosophic, et la source des plus dangereux ecarts Us peuvent seduire, dans les universites, quelques tetes ardentes et ambi- tieuses, entrainees par 1'espoir d'obtenir k 1'aide d'une espece de divination les lumieres qui ne peuvent etre que le fruit de 1'etude, ou trop sensibles au frivole orgueil d'engendrer la science avec les seules combinai- sons de leur esprit: raais les hommes sages et eclaires de 1'Allemagne se sont reunis pour censurer de tels egaremens et en deplorer les abris.

      It is lamentable to reflect through how many ages this venerated farrago of subtilties occupied all the powers of intellect : but church and state stood sentinels at the outposts of the system, to guard its sophisms and protect its absurdities; and persecution or death, the dungeon, the galley, or the pile, awaited the daring innovator who doubted a miracle by the Madonna, or denied a proposition of the Stagyrite. The Reformation, however, aimed a blow at this antiquated tyranny, from which St.

      Peter and his coadjutor Aristotle never recovered. When such powerful assailants as Erasmus and Melancthon, Luther and Laurentius Valla, took the field, it was time once more to unfurL the threadbare banners of St. Thomas, and to erect the more anoient stan- dard of Bonaventure, In France, in Spain, and the Low Countries, the war of the dia- lecticians was literally a war of death; and F 2 68 LIFE AND TIMES logicians fought with other weapons than syl- logisms and hypotheses, until the "holy text of pike and gun" decided controversies which could not be settled by less infallible autho- rity.

      In the beginning of the seventeenth century the contest was carried on with such ferocity between the old and the new scho- lastics, that the slightest heresy in philosophy was a penal offence in the colleges of Italy; yet it was at this precise period, that a youth received, as it appears, upon the cha- rity of the institution neglected the study or disputed the truth of those doctrines, by which all such institutions were then striving to protract their existence, and preserve their influence.