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The Betrothed (1827)

by Alessandro Manzoni

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,091504,321 (3.99)1 / 191
Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:The timeless masterpiece from Alessandro Manzoni, the father of modern Italian literature, in the first new English-language translation in fifty years, hailed as â??a landmark literary occasionâ?ť by Jhumpa Lahiri in her preface to the edition
The Betrothed is a cornerstone of Italian culture, language, and literature. Published in its final form in 1842, the novel has inspired generations of Italian readers and writers. Giuseppe Verdi composed his majestic Requiem Mass in honor of Manzoni. Italo Calvino called the novel â??a classic that has never ceased shaping reality in Italyâ?ť while Umberto Eco praised its author as a â??most subtle critic and analyst of languages.â?ť The Betrothed has been celebrated by Primo Levi and Natalia Ginzburg, and is one of Pope Francisâ??s favorite books. But, until now, it has remained relatively unknown to English readers.
In the fall of 1628, two young lovers are forced to flee their village on the shores of Lake Como after a powerful lord prevents their marriage, plunging them into the maelstrom of history. Manzoni draws on actual people and events to create an unforgettable fresco of Italian life and society. In this greatest of historical novels, he takes the reader on a journey through the Spanish occupation of Milan, the ravages of war, class tensions, social injustice, religious faith, and a plague that devastates northern Italy. But within Manzoniâ??s epic tale, readers will also hear powerful echoes of our own day.
Michael F. Mooreâ??s dynamic new translation brings to life Manzoniâ??s
… (more)
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» See also 191 mentions

English (28)  Italian (13)  Catalan (4)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
An amazing read! Written in the early 1800's, and set in the 1620's around Milan, mostly in small villages and inns. A story of young love, cowards, ruthless aristocrats, the plague, class structure and the role of the church in the everyday lives of that time. Funny, moving, engaging, it flows along at a very steady pace. The story cuts between a couple of storylines as our friends and enemies follow their diverging and remerging paths, but is always lively. The tale of the pandemic, based on historical documents, is just amazing. One could swap the names of the heros and villans of the covid pandemic with those in this tale of a 17th century plague outbreak with little effort, and see just how timeless human folly is. This has been on my TBR shelf for years, and I'm so happy it made it to the top. ( )
  diveteamzissou | Nov 28, 2023 |
Mettendo da parte i brutti ricordi legati alla scuola, la storia in sé non mi ha mai trasmesso nulla.. Chissà, magari se lo rileggessi ora cambierei opinione? ( )
  XSassyPants | Jun 11, 2022 |
If you appreciate classic historical fiction, this in an excellent representative of the genre. Great writing, compelling plot, interesting characters, and fascinating history. Not a quick read but definitely worth the time if you enjoy great literature. ( )
  colligan | Jan 17, 2021 |
A fairly measured and enjoyable star-crossed-lover-pursued-by-an-evil-lord that suddenly decided it was a Greene/Endo devotional novel but then gets bored with that and becomes a municipal history of Milan in a year of plague and war, and oh yeah we better tie together that love story. Underwhelming slog except for when its gets super melodramatic, at which time I enjoyed myself.

Apologies to any Italians for disparaging their great national novel. ( )
  billt568 | Aug 25, 2020 |
I read this because in an interview Frank M. Snowden, a professor emeritus of history and the history of medicine at Yale, called it "the great plague novel." What Snowden didn't say is that the plague doesn't even get mentioned for more than 500 pages and doesn't really make an appearance until at least 100 more!

The plot is trite, the characters simplistic, and the ending preposterous, but Manzoni was much more interesting as a historian than novelist - the chapters about the forms that power took in 17th-century Italy, about the bread riots, and yes, the plague in particular, are fascinating and make the 720-page trudge worthwhile. ( )
  giovannigf | Mar 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Anyone who planned to compile a plague anthology during the Covid pandemic must have turned to Alessandro Manzoni’s masterly historical novel I promessi sposi (literally “The betrothed couple”), written between 1821 and 1842, in which five chapters recreate the experience of bubonic plague in Milan in 1630. Manzoni conjures up the bumbling bureaucracy (the authorities broke their own rules), the claustrophobia, the silence, the little bell of the monatti (corpse carriers), the fear and hysteria, the stench, the looting, the teeming lazzaretto (isolation hospital), the humbling of the mighty and the rampant urban myths. The whole work – Manzoni’s only novel – is informed by deep historical research and a dedication to reality and truth.

Appearing a century after Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, and today revered as the greatest Italian novel, this was one of Italy’s first: in previous centuries long narratives had normally been in verse. Writing in the 1955 preface to his classic translation (of 1951), Archibald Colquhoun asserted that “for Italy it is all Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray rolled into one volume; though … its spirit is perhaps nearer Tolstoy”. As to its reception, “it has gone into over 500 editions, and been translated into every modern language, including Chinese; two operas, three films, a ballet, and at least seven plays have been based on it” (a tally long since exceeded); moreover, it was “quoted by Cavour in the Turin Parliament”, and nowadays remains familiar at all levels of Italian society.

Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873), a member of the Milanese landed gentry, began his literary career as a poet; his corpus includes two historical tragedies and philosophical, religious, social, linguistic and literary essays. Lombardy, with its capital Milan, was part of the Austrian empire, but from 1805 to 1810 the young writer lived in Paris, where a religious crisis led to his conversion to Catholicism; there too he encountered Romanticism, never prominent in Italian culture, though Manzoni became its leading representative. The historical novels of Walter Scott were sweeping through the salons of France, Germany and Russia, and Manzoni’s admiration for Scott is usually seen as crucial to the conception of I promessi sposi. It also buttressed his sympathies in the pivotal culture war that exploded in 1816 in Milan (then the heart of progressive politico-literary thinking), pitting the new Romanticism against the Enlightenment and the old classicizing world. This inflammatory journalism was suppressed by the Austrian authorities.

Inspired by Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), the poet Ugo Foscolo had already written his epistolary novelUltime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (Last letters of Jacopo Ortis, Milan, 1802), as an expression of Italian nationalism and protest, while Silvio Pellico, in 1816 a noted figure in Milan’s great polemic, would publish his memoir of political imprisonment, Le mie prigioni (My prisons), in 1832. These exemplify the beginnings of Risorgimento literature, the writings that stimulated the growing movement for Italian independence and unification. I promessi sposi, a literary monument for all time and any place, also promoted Risorgimento thought and emotion. With its political, moral and religious commitment, the novel is almost an allegory. Manzoni’s choice of the Duchy of Milan in the early seventeenth century went beyond the emulation of Scott: the overlords then governing that territory had been Spanish, not Austrian, but their incompetence, venality and brutality prefigured aspects of nineteenth-century experience. The novel was a coded commentary for Manzoni’s own times, but, despite the censorship, he could describe the iniquities of Spanish colonial rule with relative impunity.

Life in the late 1620s was conditioned by the Counter-Reformation and the Thirty Years War: times of famine, riots and pandemic. Manzoni’s research prompted the use of a device already employed by Cervantes and Scott: he claimed to have discovered a seventeenth-century manuscript, and “quotes” its archaic language in the novel’s text, where the author is ever-present as the interpreter of his sources. His young protagonists, Renzo and Lucia, embody an influential literary innovation. Of peasant stock, they are silk weavers from Lake Como: not of elite status, they signal the beginnings of modern realism and a new vision of society in which the lives of the poor are valued. The novel is peopled by characters, both secular and religious, in all sectors of a society harshly divided between the ruling, feudal Spanish nobility and the humble Lombard population, with – in between – those burghers and lawyers who accommodated their lives to colonial servility. All shades of morality are evidenced also in the religious figures who help or hinder the young couple in their extremity.

Manzoni created some of the most memorable characters in Italian literature. Almost unwaveringly good and sensible, Lucia (from lux, light) is mature beyond her years and secure in her faith in Providence (a recurring theme), whereas fallible Renzo’s good heart is often betrayed by his volatile emotions: this is his Bildungsroman. In a situation analogous to that of Zerlina and Masetto in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787), their marriage is impeded by the local overlord, Don Rodrigo; they flee their native territory and encounter adventures, perils and separation. Their parish priest, Don Abbondio, is known in Italy as the proverbial symbol of comic cowardice. Gertrude, the nun of Monza, based on a historical figure, personifies cruel maleficence – and yet her sins are explained psychoanalytically, avanti lettera, by her own sufferings at the hands of her aristocrat father: the seeds of a feminist argument are couched in her hellish life. Intense fear is associated with the tyrant known only as L’Innominato (the Unnamed or Nameless One): the aura of threat evaporates only after his religious conversion and the climactic release of Lucia from his castle. Despite a guilty past, the Capuchin friar, Cristoforo, is the true Christian, a self-sacrificing humanitarian. One might describe The Betrothed as a tragedy with a happy ending, but from the first page its gravity is alleviated by Manzoni’s witty irony, a sharp weapon in the implied social critique: the town of Lecco had the “benefit” of a garrison of Spanish soldiers, who “never failed to spread out into the vineyards, to thin the grapes and relieve the peasants of the trouble of harvesting them” (Michael F. Moore’s translation).

The novel had two early versions, in 1821–3 and 1825–7, before the definitive edition of 1840–2. Originally Manzoni’s style was inflected by his Lombard roots, but in 1827 he visited the literary circles of Florence (since Dante’s day the cultural capital of a notional Italy), expressly to study Florentine parlance; so began the famous process of “rinsing his rags” (the novel) in the waters of the River Arno (“nelle cui acque risciacquai i miei cenci”). Manzoni aimed to unify the Italian language, and indeed the Tuscanized text exerted a transformative influence on the development of modern literary Italian.

Moore’s fluent, accessible and sometimes lyrical translation (the first for many years) has numerous felicities. He used the Italian text edited in 2003 by the distinguished scholar Enrico Ghidetti, and Moore’s interesting introduction describes his painstaking method; yet in dialogue he occasionally strays too far into colloquial modernization: “this marriage ain’t gonna happen” smacks of Hollywood, and “buddies” won’t do for a Spanish noble’s cronies in 1630. Elsewhere, “divvy up” is too slangy for “divider le spoglie” (“to share the spoils”), while “his uncle, the Count” should replace “the Count Uncle” and “vinaigrette” is the technical term for “ampolla d’aceto”. This handsome volume, with its useful map and bibliography, its explanatory list of characters and historiography, is marred by some misprints and oddities – “States of the Church” instead of “Papal States”, “Adelchis” for “Adelchi” – and an endnote, not mindful of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, strangely declares that Manzoni “is Italy’s most celebrated writer”.

In his later years Manzoni received many honours, including a senatorship from the king of the now united nation. Verdi’s “Requiem” was composed as a profound tribute after the author’s death on May 22, 1873, and Verdi himself conducted the first performance in Milan on the first anniversary. This year Italy will be marking the 150th anniversary of Manzoni’s death in innumerable ways, both scholarly and popular. Plays about Renzo and Lucia will be performed at Lake Como’s primary schools. The writer Pierfranco Bruni will lead celebrations sponsored by parliament. Under the aegis of the Centro Nazionale di Studi Manzoniani, in a project planned by the eminent scholar Dante Isella, a trilogy of critical editions of the novel’s different versions has just been completed. Many other editions and studies will follow, while in Milan’s Duomo the public will enjoy a series of readings from the national masterpiece.

added by AntonioGallo | editTLS, Ann Lawson Lucas
 

» Add other authors (168 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Manzoni, AlessandroAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Angelini, CesareEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aster, GentilisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Boeke, YondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bottoni, LucianoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colquhoun, ArchibaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eliot, Charles WilliamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallego, Juan NicasioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gonin, FrancescoIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keates, JonathanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kroeber, BurkhartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krone, PattyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marchese, AngeloEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Penman, BruceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raimondi, EzioEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salvà, Maria AntòniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sapegno, NatalinoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spinazzola, VittorioEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
VallverdĂş, FrancescTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viti, GorizioEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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That branch of the lake of Como, which extends towards the south, is enclosed by two unbroken chains of mountains, which, as they advance and recede, diversify its shores with numerous bays and inlets. Suddenly the lake contracts itself, and takes the course and form of a river, between a promontory on the right, and a wide open shore on the opposite side. The bridge which there joins the two banks seems to render this transformation more sensible to the eye, and marks the point where the lake ends, and the Adda again begins—soon to resume the name of the lake, where the banks receding afresh, allow the water to extend and spread itself in new gulfs and bays.
Quotations
Bullies, oppressors and all men who do violence to the rights of others are guilty not only of their own crimes, but also of the corruption they bring into the hearts of their victims.
I would really like, in fact, to be born again in another two hundred years' time.
Certainly the heart has always something to tell about the future to those who listen to it. But what does the heart know? Scarce a little of what has already happened.
They settled the question, by deciding that misfortunes most commonly happen to us from our own misconduct or imprudence; but sometimes from causes independent of ourselves; that the most innocent and prudent conduct cannot always preserve us from them; and that, whether they arise from our own fault or not, trust in God softens them, and renders them useful in preparing us for a better life.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:The timeless masterpiece from Alessandro Manzoni, the father of modern Italian literature, in the first new English-language translation in fifty years, hailed as â??a landmark literary occasionâ?ť by Jhumpa Lahiri in her preface to the edition
The Betrothed is a cornerstone of Italian culture, language, and literature. Published in its final form in 1842, the novel has inspired generations of Italian readers and writers. Giuseppe Verdi composed his majestic Requiem Mass in honor of Manzoni. Italo Calvino called the novel â??a classic that has never ceased shaping reality in Italyâ?ť while Umberto Eco praised its author as a â??most subtle critic and analyst of languages.â?ť The Betrothed has been celebrated by Primo Levi and Natalia Ginzburg, and is one of Pope Francisâ??s favorite books. But, until now, it has remained relatively unknown to English readers.
In the fall of 1628, two young lovers are forced to flee their village on the shores of Lake Como after a powerful lord prevents their marriage, plunging them into the maelstrom of history. Manzoni draws on actual people and events to create an unforgettable fresco of Italian life and society. In this greatest of historical novels, he takes the reader on a journey through the Spanish occupation of Milan, the ravages of war, class tensions, social injustice, religious faith, and a plague that devastates northern Italy. But within Manzoniâ??s epic tale, readers will also hear powerful echoes of our own day.
Michael F. Mooreâ??s dynamic new translation brings to life Manzoniâ??s

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