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On the occasion of the publication of The Betrothed
A new translation by Michael F. Moore of Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi
Manzoni Today: Why Not?
A lecture by
Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) is the author of the first and, perhaps, still most important modern Italian novel. I promessi sposi (The Betrothed, 1827 and then, amply revised, in the 1840 definitive illustrated edition), represents a cultural watershed in Italian literature, not differently than Dante’s Comedy. Nonetheless, despite his immediate intellectual prominence (Goethe, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, just to name some, praised his works; Verdi devoted his Requiem to him), as well as his central role for the making of Risorgimento (Cavour, Victor Emanuel II and Garibaldi made a point to visit him in Milan), since the very beginning, Manzoni has been either fully beloved or openly despised. This contrastive sentiment depends mostly on Manzoni’s own inner ambiguities: he was adamantly in favor of Italian unification, but he defended the catholic church; he chose Romanticism over classicism, but his major poems depend very closely on Petrarchan style; he was a fervent republican, but he later accepted the monarchy as the easiest solution to Italian unification; he was against stoicism in favor of humor, but he wrote tragedies and a historical novel; he was the most famous catholic author of Italy, but the Vatican did not promote his works because of his politics as well as his realistic depiction of clerical corruption; last but not least, he recommended against mandatory readings in school, and his novel became obligatory in Italian schools a few years after his death. These and other paradoxes that shape his poetics made him alternatively the champion of moderate conservatism and tradition and an archetype for novelty and humoristic literature.