RogerBW's Blog

The Cardinal's Mistress, Benito Mussolini 06 January 2015

1910; melodrama. In the middle of the 17th century, Claudia Particelli is mistress to the Cardinal (Prince-Bishop) of Trento, and everybody will come to a Bad End.

As anti-clerical melodrama goes, one feels the author's heart wasn't really in it. Yes, we have a beautiful courtesan and the cardinal who keeps her even when she is the focus of the people's hatred; but they never come over as particularly sympathetic, or as particularly villainous. They're more a sort of dull grey. The Cardinal does allow his niece to pine away and die in a convent rather than be married against his will, but he's more weak and pathetic than doing the thing properly. This is after all a book in which someone can give orders like "Conduct Don Benizio to the secret dungeon of the castle!"; the villains are supposed to glory in their villainy, but nobody seems to get much joy out of anything. There aren't even any ripped bodices.

The impression one receives is that the author used the template of the historical melodrama as a medium in which to write about the subjects he really cared for: the corruption of the Church (both the Prince-Bishop and his enemies), the irrepressible spirit of the common people and the need for revolution to throw down the old order, and so on. (There are also some remarkably undigested chunks of obvious historical research, such as the death tolls of various diseases or the details of an orgiastic feast, delivered as a lecture by one character to another.)

The author was writing for a local audience: he was working for various organised-labour and socialist groups in Trento, and this story was serialised in the newspaper Il Popolo between January and April of 1910. It was apparently a great success; his editor repeatedly requested that he not kill off the principals, as he was apparently hankering to do even in this short time.

Even so, Claudia Particella, l'Amante del Cardinale: Grande Romanzo dei Tempi del Cardinale Emanuel Madruzzo was clearly an ephemeral work, and would probably have been forgotten had the author not achieved fame in other fields. In 1926 it was rediscovered, and translated into English by Hiram Motherwell, but it does not appear to reveal much about the essential character of the author; even Motherwell in his introduction strains to find parallels with later speeches and writing.

It is enjoyable trottle, but a more whole-hearted wallowing in the corruption of the Church would have made it a much better example of its type. The oddest thing about the book is that it's not really terribly odd at all.

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