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"ONE arm of Lake Como turns off to the south between two unbroken chains of mountains, which cut it up into a series of bays and inlets as the hills advance into the water and retreat again, until it quite suddenly grows much narrower and takes on the appea" Lire la première page
Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Quatrième de couverture
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Few novels that I know deal with historical topics as magnificently as this one. One has to go to a writer like Tolstoy to find scenes as memorable as the tremendous scene in the Lazaretto in which Fra Cristoforo admonishes Renzo for his desire for revenge, with thousands of people dying of the plague surrounding them. Nearly as powerful is Manzoni's masterful depiction of the bread riots in Milan or the way he describes the progress of the German army in its passage through the region on its way to Mantua. Although one hardly reads the novel for the history lessons it provides, one learns an unusually large amount.
I am a bit perplexed as the criticism that the novel contains too much in the way of Christian redemption in the latter part of the novel. Of course it does. As much as an historical novel, THE BETROTHED is a religious novel, in which Manzoni in his own way tries to justify the ways of God to men. If one compares the novel to the historical works of someone like Hugo or other French historical novelists, one will be struck by the sharp divergence in the depiction of the Church and the clergy. In France, an anti-clericalism characterizes many or most of the novels. Manzoni is much more balanced. Some of his religious figures, such as the Nun of Moanza or the Lecco parish priest, are either ridiculous or treacherous, but by and large the great heroes in his book are either monks (Fra Cristoforo), clerics (the Cardinal), or converts (the Unnamed). The theme of the novel is a religious one: "All things work together for good for those that love God." Given the central theme of the novel, the religious themes are not an unwanted accretion, added on arbitrarily by an author otherwise summoning up a tremendous yarn, but integral to the novel as a whole. To dampen or eliminate the religious themes would have been to make it into another novel entirely.
Most of all, THE BETROTHED is just a flat out great story. Separated lovers, devious villains, mysterious figures: who wouldn't fall for all this? Manzoni is a masterful storyteller, and frequently one is left with a powerful impatience to know what is going to happen next. Anyone looking for a great novel could hardly hope to do better than this great masterpiece.
To begin with, the subtitle - "a new translation" - is misleading. This translation dates back to the mid-1800's; there exist at least two competent English-language translations from the mid and late 20th century (Colquhoun and Penman, respectively). What's more, this volume omits a sizeable part of the book and, oddly enough, begins at chapter 19! (The publishing company itself offers a disingenuous sort of apology for any possible "typos" or misspellings in the text, explaining that these are due to the fact that the plates for the printers were produced by photocopy in an automated process wherein robots turn the pages for the scanner, but fails to account for the fact that the first third of the book was left out!)
It is bizarre that Amazon should continue to market this hilarious contrivance while representing it as Manzoni's much honored book.
The third quarter of the book leaves the story entirely to follow the development of the second plague in Milan from the famine years when it began to its demise--leaving 2/3rds of the population dead. Though this is quite a large detour, the descriptions of the world reduced to this hell and the understanding Manzoni brings to bear on it, are no less engrossing than the story, which he does tie in and resolve before the end of the book. The courage and faith of some of the characters burns all the more brightly when plunged into the darkness of the pestilence. Some are transformed for the good. Others, just hardened.
It's too bad Manzoni wasn't as prolific as Dickens. He wrote a second novel, only, which apparently has been published very rarely since the time of its writing. So, The Betrothed is our one chance to be exposed to his great mind and heart. Don't miss it.