February 2017

During my Italian studies, many years ago at The Ohio State University, the required reading in my advanced courses included three literature masterpieces. I’m sure it must be mandatory reading in most Italian schools. My favorite two were Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and  Boccaccio’s “Il DeCameron.” The third was really a ‘chick’ novel, Alessandro Manzoni’s “The Betrothed” (I promessi sposi) that was published in the 1800s. It was truly a love story embraced with a variety of themes including nationalism. Manzoni, of Milanese origins, wrote this during a period when Italy was mostly under foreign control and he longed for a united Italy and a national language.  

It’s such a classical piece of Italian literature, Pope Francis, in a general audience at the Vatican, encouraged engaged couples to read the novel before they married. Pope Francis read this novel three times and will probably read the 338 pages again.

The setting of “I promessi sposi” (The Betrothed) takes place near Lake Como in northern Italy during Spanish rule in the 1600s. A loving peasant couple, Renzo and Lucia, plan to marry.  A priest, Don Abbondio, is to perform the marriage. On the eve of the wedding, Don Abbondio is threatened by a couple of thugs and warned not to perform the marriage because a local tyrant, Don Rodrigo, wants the bride. He’s scared off and makes up a phony story, however, Renzo learns of the real reason for the postponement. The couple takes off, is separated along the way, each engaging strange and memorable characters. In their struggle to reunite, they face multiple dangers including famine bread riots, plague and prison. The agony of this young couple separated by evil intent is overcome by their enduring passion, faith in God and love and marriage wins out. Manzoni is credited with one of Europe’s most celebrated novels.

Ranked as one of the masterpieces of world literature, it was generally agreed to be Manzoni’s greatest work and the catalyst for his quest for a modern Italian language. (Alessandro Manzoni, Mar.7, 1785 – May 22, 1873)