Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE BRAVO OF VENICE by Matthew Gregory Lewis

OK, it's not exactly completely by Matthew Gregory Lewis, but it's got an interesting history...

This novel actually began life as a German work, Abällino der große Bandit, published in 1794 by Heinrich Daniel Zschokke; in 1804 it was adapted into English by Matthew Gregory Lewis. Zschokke was known mostly for this one novel, but it was a seminal work in what was known in Germany as the räuberroman, which also took off in England. It translates as "robber novel" and is basically a subgenre about either hideous evil bandits who get what's coming to them or about noble misunderstood heroes going undercover as dashing highwaymen, perhaps similar to Georgette Heyer's charming debut novel The Black Moth.

So, what's it about? Well, an ugly, twisted chap named Aballino shows up in Venice, gets involved in a few swordfights, and then joins a gang of robbers and bandits. He's supposed to assassinate Rosabella, the beautiful ward of the Doge, as an initiation but instead kills the bandit chief to protect her. And, naturally, he declares his love for the typically innocent Rosabella.

Of course, all is not as it seems. There's also a handsome dandy named Flodardo who's moving in the top social circles of Venice...and actually, he and Aballino are the same man, actually Count Rosalvo! He ends up in the middle of political machinations to assassinate the Doge, and Flordardo is called on to capture Aballino!

If this all sounds very loony, it is, but it's also quite a bit of fun. It's interesting for being a VERY early use of the secret identity trope. It's a great early gothic and example of the bandit-oriented subgenre. And, honestly, it reads fairly well if maybe a bit clunky in spots (I found the beginning quite slow, but it picked up quickly). I kept imagining this as a 60s historic swashbuckler from Italy, perhaps with Gordon Scott as Rosalvo/Aballino/Flodardo and Mimmo Palmera as one of the conspirators.

There are print editions of this here and there, but why bother? Digital editions are available for free from various websites, including Amazon. Check it out if you want some swashbuckling fun. I think swashbuckling is overdue for a comeback, don't you?

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