Re: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
Posted by Sterling on 12/10/2011, 20:51:14, in reply to "Re: The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni"
Yes, I can see why it is a candidate for the Great Italian Novel. The quotes you picked out are wonderful as are so many passages. It's surprising that it is not better known in the US. It's not a hard or even particularly long read. |
I had no idea last year when I proposed both the Defoe and Manzoni that the latter featured the Plague. I guess this is ReadLit's Year of the Plague!
Defoe was a journalist, and his Journal of the Plague Year reads as nonfiction reportage (even though it is fiction). Manzoni was a conscious artist, and his evocation of Milan during the plague is much more vivid.
I, too, was taken by the emphasis on "poisoners." I can recall no concerns about poisoners in London. Your reasons are all sound, Steven. I was thinking that Milan was actively involved in war, so insidious enemy agents of biological/chemical warfare were plausible. While the Second Anglo-Dutch War was being fought in 1665, I believe that was primarily a naval war. In any event, it was not fought on English soil anywhere near London, so perhaps the thought did not occur to the English.
: Just some random observations to start with:
: The scheme of making the story of Lucia and Renzo come
: from a discovered manuscript of an anonymous author
: is, I think, a brilliant device for separating the
: fictional from the historical in this novel. We always
: know when Manzoni is speaking as an historian and
: giving us facts we can trust.
: One of my favorite passages: "To say the truth,
: the destruction of sieves and kneading troughs, the
: pillaging of bake-houses, and the routing of bakers,
: are not the most expeditious means of providing a
: supply of bread; this is one of the metaphysical
: subtleties which never enter the mind of the
: multitude." (I wonder what Manzoni would say to
: the idea of trying to reduce a government's deficit by
: cutting taxes?)
: "Had Donna Prassede been induced to treat her
: [Lucia] in this way from some inveterate hatred
: towards her, these tears might, perhaps, have
: vanquished and silenced her; but as she spoke with the
: intention of doing good, she went on without allowing
: herself to be moved by them, as groans and imploring
: cries may arrest the weapons of an enemy, but not the
: instrument of a surgeon." How often have I seen
: women, my wife among them, approach a recently
: bereaved widow or daughter after a funeral whom you
: would expect to have been all cried out by now and
: start the lachrymal floodgates anew with a little
: "consolation," and then keep at it until the
: poor victim was a shuddering, devastated wreck.
: A wise observation: "But so constituted are we
: mortals in general, that we rebel indignantly and
: violently against medium evils, and bow in silence
: under extreme ones; we bear, not with resignation, but
: stupefaction, the weight of what at first we had
: called insupportable." (I think, however, this is
: less true now. After every great tragedy there is
: always a TV reporter on hand to ask us if we don't
: blame the government for what happened.)
: The most moving and dramatic passage of the books is
: at the end of Chapter XXXI when the authorities draw
: the naked bodies of a family of plague victims past
: celebrants to convince them of the reality of the
: It's interesting to compare Milan's response to the
: plague of 1629-31 with London's a generation later as
: related by Defoe. The London authorities'
: countermeasures were much more pragmatic, efficient
: and--to the limited extent possible given their
: medical ignorance--effective. In particular, Londoners
: did not succumb as deeply to the paranoia over
: "poisoners" as did the Milanese. Just to
: note some differences in their circumstances:
: - England was a prosperous country at the time with a
: higher standard of education, while Milan was already
: beset by famine, depression and war.
: - Milan was ruled by Spaniards, so there was a
: built-in distrust of authority that thwarted official
: - London had experience of the plague within living
: memory, while Manzoni makes note of the fact that
: Milan did not, and this delayed their response.
: - The London plague originated in the city itself,
: which prompted a large portion of the population to
: evacuate in time to avoid it, whereas Milan's plague
: started in the countryside, causing people to evacuate
: into the city that eventually became a trap for them.