“The Betrothed” (I Promessi Sposi) by Alessandro Manzoni is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature and certainly the most famous novel in Italian literature. First published in 1827 (and in English in 1828), this famous piece of historical fiction is a panorama of 17th century northern Italian society in which the Catholic religion is a major factor. Born in Milan, the poet and novelist Manzoni spent most of his childhood in religious schools. In the early 1800s, he wrote a series of religious poems, the finest “La Pentecoste,” in 1822.
Manzoni’s masterpiece, “I Promessi Sposi” (1825-27) takes place during the Milanese insurrection and plague in the early 17th century.
The plot deals with the struggle of two peasant lovers, Lorenzo and Lucia, whose wish is to marry. The parish priest, Don Abbondio, is warned not to marry the couple so, in fear for his life, he refuses and runs away. The reason for the warning to the priest is that the local tyrant has wagered he can have Lucia for his pleasure while she “is pure.” A courageous friar, Fra Cristoforo, takes up the lovers’ cause and leads Lorenzo and Lucia to safety in the monastery under the care of a nun. Eventually, a marriage takes place.
Manzoni’s concept of the evils of life and religion and the ultimate moral dimension gave him immediate fame not only in Italy, but across the globe. Manzoni died May 22, 1873. He was 88-years-old.
“I Promessi Sposi” was adapted into an opera and multiple film versions in 1908, 1941, 1990, and a made-for-television movie in 2004. On May 15, 2015, Pope Francis, at a weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square, asked engaged couples to read the novel before marriage.