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.)