Antonina was Collins's first published novel, dedicated to Lady
Chantrey, wife of William Collins's friend, the sculptor Sir Francis
Legatt Chantrey (1791-1841). Antonina
was begun in April 1846, delayed for a year during the writing of The
Memoirs of William Collins, R.A., and published in 1850.
It is written in a laborious, deliberately florid style using
detail from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and
modelled on Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii (1834).
The plot is challenging, with many passages reading like a
cross between a guide book to ancient Rome (based on Collins's visit
in 1837) and a description of his father's paintings.
Other sections, particularly the more horrific and violent,
are vividly written and there are already indications of Collins's
interest in physical handicap and abnormal states of mind, and his
dislike of all forms of extremism.
The conflict between the imaginative and artistic Antonina
and her stern father is reworked to better effect in Collins's next
novel, Basil. Antonina
received good reviews, sold consistently and was reprinted
throughout Collins's lifetime and well into the twentieth century.
by John Gilbert from the first one volume edition in 1861
The plot revolves around two separate but related struggles.
That of the old pagan and new Christian religions, seen as
equally destructive, embodied in the opposing characters of Ulpius
and Numerian; and that of the strong figure of the Goth, Goisvintha,
(modelled on Norna in Scott's The Pirate) seeking revenge
against the weak heroine, Antonina.
In the Rome of 408 AD, the young Antonina lives with her father Numerian,
zealous in his aims to restore the Christian faith to its former
steward, Ulpius, brought up in the old religion, secretly lives only
to restore the forbidden gods of pagan sacrifice.
Vetranio, their wealthy neighbour, has designs on the
innocent Antonina. When
they are surprised by Numerian in an apparently compromising
situation, Antonina flees outside the city walls just before Rome is
blockaded by the encircling army of the Goths.
Antonina is captured by the chieftain, Hermanric, who falls in
love with her. His
sister, Goisvintha, was the sole survivor of a Roman massacre in
which her children perished and has vowed revenge on Rome and its
people. She attempts to
kill Antonina but is prevented by Hermanric who allows Antonina to
escape. During the weeks
of the siege, she lives in a deserted farmhouse, visited nightly by
betrays her brother to the Huns who kill him, while Antonina escapes
for a second time.
Ulpius, meanwhile, has discovered a breach in the city wall and attempts
to betray Rome to Alaric in exchange for his destruction of the
Christian religion. Alaric
is interested only in humbling his enemies into surrender and
seizing a large tribute of gold.
Returning towards the city, Ulpius discovers Antonina and
accompanies her to Rome where she finds her overjoyed but starving
father. Antonina begs
the last morsels of food from Vetranio at a macabre and suicidal
'Banquet of Famine', preventing him from making a funeral pyre of
HISTORY FOR ANTONINA
20th Century Chatto &