I'd heard Ann Radcliffe was essence of Gothic, so I took the trip to 1797 to see what that means (novel actually takes place around 1758, mainly). I was given a twisty, emotionally harrowing thrill-ride. Sure, you can already assume that Elena is not going to emerge as warrior-woman who takes over the heroics from her true love Vincenzo, when villains - on behalf of Vincenzo's snobby family - do everything they can to stop the impending wedding. But it's not like he is any more effective, for most of this awful adventure. This couple could be on the altar, ready to recite vows, when there's a church-invasion by masked marauders specializing in all the usual hench-stuff...assault, separation, incarceration, and - reserved for Vincenzo - trumped up charges and torturous interrogation by the Inquisition. Really...every time the honeymoon seems about an hour away, a couple seconds later he doesn't know where she is, and she is tying herself in Gothic-damsel knots wondering if he's alive.
As hinted, the real treats for me were the strange twists cropping up in the latter part of the novel. I expected mainly straight-line thrills and obvious, in-your-face mayhem with plenty of shrieks stifled by hairy hands over mouths, and it would all be fun in a "no real puzzles, please, we're Gothic" way. But I loved getting blindsided, by a twist that maybe some readers may have seen coming; I did not, and was delighted...and it was really cool that all this leads to the reader having a leg-up on certain character who still operated with a major misconception now not shared by anyone enjoying the book. I loved that! "Ha-ha, you're not in the loop, dude, and it's compelling you make choices based on something that I know now is wrong.".
The style is in no way off-putting, for a dusty old potboiler, and though I can't say it doesn't drag a bit here and there, it's actually the language, the lively prose, that carried me through the "let's stop and angst awhile, we're Gothic" parts.
I can now recommend, wholeheartedly, not one but two wonderful novels from the very very late 18th Century: Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown (1798), and The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (let's back it up a year! 1797!). Great, creepy storytelling goes back a ways, eh?