"This is not just a book, it offers consolation to the whole of humanity."
All because Don Rodrigo saw the beautiful Lucia in the village, and made a bet with his cousin, he would have that girl.
It's not giving much away to say that, after a whole heap of troubles, and a chunkster's worth of pages, Renzo and Lucia are, in fact, married, and look to live happily ever after.
But, oh, those troubles. Don Rodrigo's enmity is only the start. Renzo and Lucia live in a village close to Milan, which, at that time, is under the sway of Spain. Don Rodrigo's goons lead a night-time raid on Lucia's house in order to kidnap her; she escapes by luck. But Renzo and Lucia have to flee their village and so get caught up in the general troubles of the era. Which include war and the plague, both by-blows of the Thirty Years' War.
The first edition of Manzoni's novel comes out in 1827; he revised it and the fuller second edition came out in 1842. So it's a historical novel, and Manzoni, like everyone else, has been reading Sir Walter Scott: he's got Scott's antiquarian interests, and his mock scholarship.
But he's also interested in the Catholic church, the religious life, and in redemption; the novel's main historical figure is Federico Borromeo, the cardinal of Milan, and younger cousin of Saint Carlo Borromeo. The Cardinal is a genuinely good man, who leads others to goodness. But it's also made clear that not everyone is meant for the religious life, and one extended episode involves Gertrude, of a wealthy family, and educated by nuns. But her parents railroad her into a nunnery afterwards, because they're too cheap to provide a proper dowry.
Manzoni has clearly done a bunch of research on the plague and I wrote out a bunch of parallels with our current situation--lockdowns that come too late, denial that anything is happening, contact tracing, and socializing only in the open air. But perhaps we're all tired of thinking about pandemics...
All in all, a pretty fun story. Sometimes the good were a little too good, and the evil a little too evil, though. There's a recent review at Mudpuddlesoup as well.
"There's justice in this world, in the long run."
A Note on Translations
The novel has been translated twice in recent-ish times, by Archibald Colquhon in 1951, and by Bruce Penman in 1972. The Penman is what Penguin has on offer and is easy enough to come by; the Colquhon was last reprinted in Everyman's Library in 2013, and seems to have gone out of print since. I started with the Penman--and the Other Reader read the Penman all the way through without complaints--but, while I was enjoying the story, I got annoyed with the translation and decided to switch. Here's an example. The situation (from Chapter 9) has our future nun Gertrude stuck at home; with her parents deliberately ignoring her. Here's the sentence from Penman that did me in: 😉
"But she could not help noticing that one of the pages, very different from the rest of them, showed a respect and sympathy that had something special about them."
Argh! 'Them' twice in the sentence, both (of them!) not really necessary, and with different referents. After I finally parsed it and realized the second use of 'them' didn't mean the pages, I started Googling other translations. There's an anonymous 1845 translation available at Internet Archive, but unfortunately it's not at Gutenberg:
"She could not, however, but observe that one of the servants, a page, appeared to bear her a respect very different to the others, and to feel a peculiar kind of compassion for her."
Much clearer, though maybe a little old-fashioned. Here's what Colquhon does:
"She could not fail to notice, however, that a page, in striking contrast to the rest, treated her with respect, and showed a particular compassion towards her."
Not brilliant, but better. The Italian (from Gutenberg):
"Dovette però accorgersi che un paggio, ben diverso da coloro, le portava un rispetto, e sentiva per lei una compassione d'un genere particolare."
The Italian is the most compact and strikes me as the best (unsurprisingly, I suppose). I have some Italian but if I read a seven-hundred page book in Italian, it would have been the one book of summer instead of the twenty, I'm afraid...
tx for the mention, but i'm (blush)a bit embarrassed to be cited by one who actually knows what they're doing... i liked the book a lot altho i know i missed some of the thematic stuff... great review!ReplyDelete
Yours was a great review as well and said different stuff than mine, so I figured what the heck...Delete
And anyway, it's not like I know what I'm doing...
I don't know why, but I love the sound of this one. Think my library has a copy?ReplyDelete
Mine has both translations, so here's hoping yours does, too!Delete
Interesting! How did this one end up on your TBR? I love that series for its supplementary reading, always helpful.ReplyDelete
I think I've known about it for a long time--it's a pretty well-known Italian novel, a language I've studied and am supposed to know, but don't. But I've also seen it in various lists recently as a major plague/pandemic novel.Delete
Such a great novel in its own crazy way. I've read it a couple of times, but never wrote about it for some reason except incidentally.ReplyDelete
Those early British translations come from the interest in Manzoni as a Catholic apologetic. I don't think I ever came across a Victorian reader mentioning it in a literary context.
It is pretty fun. A bit obscure in English, it seems, though pretty well known for Italians.Delete
Interesting about the early translations. I saw where there were two of Manzoni's first edition, and then one of the fuller second, which I quoted above and then nearly read, but I hate reading PDFs on my tablet.
Curiously, in recent weeks I've been planning to take up I promessi sposi again after I finish Ferrante's La vita bugiarda degli adulti, after whose straightforward modern style Manzoni's elaborate classical elegance will be a nice change. It will be my fourth reading, my second in the nice ancient paperback pocket edition I found a few years ago in one of Haifa's secondhand bookshops. I probably benefit from never having read Scott. Just yesterday I was thinking that it must be at least a thousand pages. Seven hundred is less daunting, though it will still be the work of months. You may know that Manzoni's Tuscan (correct me if I'm wrong) became the basis for Modern Standard Italian, to an extent and through a process that I don't know enough to speak of. He wrote the first draft of the novel in his native regional dialect, a northern one, I believe. (All these "I thinks" and "I believes" hope to elicit more and truer information from anyone here who may have it.)ReplyDelete
That's my impression of the history of the text as well. I think it comes from the introduction to the Colquhon translation, but maybe it just comes from Wikipedia.Delete
Of the two editions I was trading off, one was 600 pages & the other 800, even though they were both supposed to be translations of the same text. So I averaged. The difference was mostly typeface. I wouldn't be shocked to see a thousand page version.
Scott's worth reading & not just for his importance in the development of the novel. He's also fun, at least the good ones are.
Hope you're well.
never having read ScottReplyDelete
Ah ha! So if any of you want a superb, but admittedly narrower, book by Manzoni, please look for On the Historical Novel (1850), a great work of criticism.
Ooh. Thanks for the ref. It isn't even mentioned in the English Wikipedia & there's not much information about it in the Italian wikipedia either. The text is available online in Italian, though.Delete
Phillip's been off reading Sanskrit, so we can forgive him about the Scott...
I should say that that wasn't a dig at Scott, it's just that I've read a few people who felt that I promessi sposi compared unfavorably with him, but I suppose that may well have had more to do with the times of life when they read Scott and Manzoni, the first probably in youth, the second probably much later. I missed reading so much important fiction in adolescence and youth, when much of it can be best appreciated, because I early on became preoccupied with ancient languages and literatures.Delete
For me I wouldn't say Manzoni compares unfavorably with Scott. Manzoni's better at plot, and has a genuine interest in faith and redemption I don't see in Scott. He uses techniques that he picked up from Scott, but uses them well.Delete
And he has the advantage that he wrote one pretty great book. Whatever you think of Scott--and I think he's under-read myself--there are a few duds in his collected works.
I did not think there was a hint of a dig. But you reminded me that Manzoni himself wrote a significant essay that is partly about Scott.Delete
[Manzoni's better at plot, and has a genuine interest in faith and redemption I don't see in Scott. He uses techniques that he picked up from Scott, but uses them well.]Delete
Love this analysis. I'll remember it.
I've heard from Italian friends that I promessi sposi is assigned in high school, so it'll be like certain plays of Shakespeare in the anglosphere which people have read whether they wanted to or not.ReplyDelete
I can imagine. Both a certain amount of general knowledge, coupled with resentment. Moby-Dick for Americans.Delete