Alessandro Manzoni Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Antonio Manzoni belongs to Lombardy, in whose capital he was born on March 7, 1785. His putative father, Count Pietro, and his mother, Giulia—the daughter of the distinguished jurist and political economist Cesare Beccaria—were incompatible and were legally separated only seven years after Manzoni’s birth. Though as a child he studied in various religious schools in and around his native region, and though as a youth he suffered from excessive shyness, he developed strong sympathies with the libertarian ideas of the French Revolution, as the Jacobin flavor of his 1801 poem, “Il trionfo della libertà,” clearly indicates. His mother had run off to Paris in 1795 with her new lover, Carlo Imbonati, and the young Manzoni accepted an invitation, ten years later, to join them there. He had traveled in the meantime, but Paris seemed like a shiny goal. While there, he came in contact with many liberal philosophers and politicians, a number of whom (including the historian Claude Fauriel, with whom he formed a lifetime friendship) contributed significantly to his intellectual development and to his experience of the world. He wrote some poetry during these years—“L’Adda,” Sermoni, and “Urania” (on the civilizing virtues of the arts)—which revealed his lingering classical leanings; he also wrote an elegy in which he began to come into his own as a poet, “In morte di Carlo Imbonati,” for his mother’s lover, who had died when Manzoni arrived in Paris, and had left him a goodly inheritance.

In 1808, Manzoni married Henriette Blondel, the lovely sixteen-year-old daughter of a Genevese banker, Calvinist by faith. Always attracted to matters of the spirit, Manzoni found Henriette’s strong sense of religious devotion a stimulus to regain acquaintance with his original Catholic faith, and it was not long before he underwent a conversion in which several Jansenist clerics played an important role. His wife switched to Catholicism as well, and his mother returned to it after many years. From this point on, back in Lombardy, Manzoni led a long life of...

(The entire section is 868 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Antonio Manzoni’s putative father was Count Pietro Manzoni, and his mother, Giulia Beccaria, the daughter of the famous author of Dei delitti e delle pene (1764; An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, 1767). His early schooling took place in Lugano and Merate (under the Somaschi brothers) and in Milan (under the Barnabites), where he was born on March 7, 1785. Reacting against religion and sympathetic to the libertarianism of the French Revolution, at sixteen years old he wrote a Jacobin poem, “Il trionfo della libertà” (1801). Such liberal ideas attracted him to Paris, where his mother, legally separated from her husband since 1792, went to live with Carlo Imbonati in 1795. Manzoni returned to Paris in 1805 after traveling to Switzerland, Piedmont, Lombardy, and Venetia; Imbonati died, leaving Manzoni a goodly inheritance, to which Manzoni added the estate left him by his father, who died two years later.

During this period, still under the dictates of a classical aesthetic, Manzoni wrote a number of poems, including “In morte di Carlo Imbonati” (1805-1806). The Imbonati piece does not suggest that he was troubled by his mother’s questionable morality (as he was to be later); his close—and what was to become lifetime—friendship with the French historian Claude Fauriel, who lived with Sophie de Condorcet, may have had something to do with his acceptance of the situation. In fact, in “divine Paris,” he met many ideologues, freethinking philosophers and politicians such as Constantin-François de Volney, Marie-François Maine de Biran, Antoine-Louis Destutt de Tracy, Benjamin Constant, Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis, and François Guizot, who filled his head with theories of skepticism, atheism, materialism, and other notions then in vogue.

How much this intellectual ferment actually shaped Manzoni’s mind is hard to say. A heightened awareness of history and historical studies, thanks to Vincenzo Cuoco in Milan and Fauriel in Paris, remained with him to a degree significant enough to guide his research interests, but the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment were already in decline, and Manzoni always found more attraction in matters of the spirit. He frequented Jansenist circles and, his conscience in turmoil, underwent a spiritual crisis—his so-called conversion—after which he settled on a more serene, almost devotional view of life. Supposedly, the process began in the Church of Saint Roche, to which he had repaired in a state of confusion one day. Still in Paris, he met a “very sweet, very proper” young woman, “an angelic creature” of Calvinist background, Henriette Blondel, whom he married in Milan in 1808. Enrichetta, as he then called her, and to whom he remained devoted all of her life, was only sixteen when they married. Two years later, the marriage rite, originally evangelical, was celebrated in Roman Catholic fashion. About the conversion, Attilio Momigliano says, Manzoni’s religious conversion is the definitive settlement of his moral conscience, the moment in which his scrupulous honesty finds an unwavering basis.The deist becomes theist, and his humanitarian morality becomes Catholic morality.Hence, in life: modesty, love of meditative solitude, charity, a reluctance to speak ill of his neighbor, and an acute and indulgent penetration into the motivations for human actions; in art: the portrayal of these and similar...

(The entire section is 1403 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111205188-Manzoni.jpg Alessandro Manzoni (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Antonio Manzoni (mahn-ZOH-nee), widely rated as one of Italy’s outstanding novelists on the basis of a single book, The Betrothed, was born in Milan in 1785, presumably the son of Pietro Manzoni and his wife, Giulia Beccaria, although there is some evidence to show that he was in fact the son of Giovanni Verri, one of his mother’s lovers. Manzoni’s grandfather was Cesare Beccaria, the famous Italian criminologist. Manzoni’s mother, legally separated from Pietro Manzoni, went to Paris with a wealthy Milanese banker, Count Carlo Imbonati, in 1796. Her son was sent to various religious schools in Merate, Lugano, and Milan. His grandfather had died of a stroke in 1794, and his father took...

(The entire section is 524 words.)