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 ideals. Numerian’s 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 Hermanric. Goisvintha 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 his palace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist, playwright, and short story writer. His best-known works are The Woman in White (1859), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866) and The Moonstone (1868). The last is considered the first modern English detective novel. Born to the family of painter William Collins in London, he lived with them in Italy and France as a child, learning French and Italian. He worked as a clerk for a tea merchant. After his first novel, Antonina, appeared in 1850, he met Charles Dickens, who became a close friend, mentor and collaborator. Some of Collins’s works were first published in Dickens’s journals All the Year Round and Household Words and they collaborated on drama and fiction. Collins published his best known work in the 1860s, achieving financial stability and an international reputation. However, he began suffering from gout. From taking opium for the pain, he developed an addiction. In the 1870s and 1880s the quality of his writing declined along with his health. Collins was critical of the institution of marriage and never married; he split his time between Caroline Graves, except for a two-year separation, and his common-law wife Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children.