Alessandro Manzoni Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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

Alessandro Manzoni is remembered chiefly for a single work, I promessi sposi (1842; The Betrothed, 1951)—a revision of the earlier Gli sposi promessi (1827; The Betrothed, 1828)—his only novel. He was, however, a prolific writer of astonishing range and intellectual depth. Manzoni was a historian, the author of such works as the Discorso sopra alcuni punti della storia longobardica in Italia (1822), the Lettre à Alphonse de Lamartine (1848), and La storia della colonna infame (1842; The Column of Infamy, 1964), which accompanied the 1842 edition of The Betrothed. He was also a writer of religious and philosophical works, including Lettre à Victor Cousin (1829). Dell’invenzione (1850) and Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica (1819), and a philologist, author of Sulla lingua italiana (1850) and Dell’unità della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla (1868). His bibliography includes many more works, among them volumes of literary criticism such as Lettera sul romanticismo (1846) and Del romanzo storico (1845), and two historical tragedies, much admired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Charles-Augustin de Sainte-Beuve, Il conte di Carmagnola (1820) and Adelchi (1822). Finally, his published correspondence, Epistolario (1882), makes fascinating reading.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Particularly on the Italian peninsula, Alessandro Manzoni emerged as a dominant figure during his long and extraordinarily productive life. His novel, The Betrothed, remains one of the greatest novels of the Western world, not merely of the 1800’s but of all time. It is a compendium of various novelistic styles and genres, including the historical, in which context the narrative unfolds from a humble beginning concerning two peasants to epic dimensions involving a whole world in moral and physical turmoil. With his tragedy Adelchi, which recalls William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600-1601) and Henry IV (1597-1598), Manzoni reached the apogee of Christian fatalism in the theater. The Column of Infamy is an uncategorizable work which offers psychological insights into the evil of torture; its seventeenth century characterizations reveal a novelist’s skill. Finally, as a poet, his fame rests primarily on his religious poetry, The Sacred Hymns, an occasional political piece such as “Marzo 1821,” and the “historical” ode on Napoleon, “The Napoleonic Ode.”

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alessandro Manzoni’s vast range of intellectual endeavor is astonishing. He was a scholar and thinker in the best sense of the words, respecting thoroughness of documentation and clarity of analysis. His novel maintains an epic quality throughout, not simply because of the constantly expanding tableaux andnarrative but also because of the breadth of knowledge that informs it. It is a historical novel because Manzoni was a historian, the author of such works as the Discorso sopra alcuni punti della storia longobardica in Italia (1822), the Lettre à Alphonse de Lamartine (1848), and the jurisprudential and humanitarian La storia della colonna infame (1842; The Column of Infamy, 1964). The best known of his philosophical and religious works include Lettre à Victor Cousin (1829), Dell’invenzione (1850), and Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica (1819). His two historical tragedies, Il conte di Carmagnola (pb. 1820; Count of Carmagnola, 2002) and Adelchi (pr., pb. 1822), were much admired by Charles-Augustin de Sainte-Beuve and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. To round out his accomplishments, it must be added that as an agronomist he performed a number of experiments at his country retreat in northern Lombardy, some of which yielded positive and enduring results. For all these reasons, his published correspondence, Epistolario (1882), makes fascinating reading.

Finally, as a poet, Manzoni’s fame rests primarily on his religious poetry, the Inni sacri (1812-1815; The Sacred Hymns, 1904), an occasional political piece such as “Marzo 1821” (1821, 1848), and “Il cinque maggio” (1821;“The Napoleonic Ode,” 1904), the historico-philosophico-religious ode on the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, perhaps the most dispassionate view (compared to the poems of Victor Hugo and Henrik Wergeland on the same subject) of the emperor.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alessandro Manzoni understood many of his era’s religious and moral, historical and political, and aesthetic and linguistic problems, all of which he synthesized in different ways in his various works, particularly in his salient achievement of The Betrothed, judged by literary critics around the turn of the century in Geneva to be the greatest novel of the nineteenth century. In its pluralism of modes, it surpasses generic classification: It is at once historical, philosophical, sociological, metaphysical, psychological, realistic, naturalistic, idealistic, lyric, epic, dramatic, religious, optimistic, pessimistic, moralistic, ironical, oratorical, and both classical and Romantic—in short, universal. For the first time (aside from the picaresque, which exists in a class by itself), the “heroes” are peasants who are battered by historical events and yet around whom all historical events turn. Along with this, it may be said with justification that after Dante’s The Divine Comedy (c. 1320), The Betrothed established the literary Italian language, for there has been no better stylist to dispute this claim.

As a playwright, Manzoni has been credited with composing, in Adelchi, a truly Christian tragedy, regardless of the pronouncements of theorists that such a tragedy amounts to a contradiction in terms. The Column of Infamy stands out as a remarkable example of that two-edged combination of legal literature and literary jurisprudence, a provocative merging of both disciplines. Manzoni must be recognized as a fine Christian apologist and a democratic philosopher, and his historical works will be seen to take their rightful place in the area of historiography, documented as they are with objective rigor.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Barricelli, Gian Piero. Alessandro Manzoni. Boston: Twayne, 1976. An introductory biography and critical study of selected works by Manzoni. Includes bibliographic references and an index.

Colquhoun, Archibald. Manzoni and His Times: A Biography of the Author of “The Betrothed” (“I promessi sposi”). 1954. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979. One of the basic resources in English, this biography is by one of the best-known scholars of Italian literature. Illustrated.

Ferlito, Susanna F. “Fear of the Mother’s Tongue: Secrecy and Gossip in Manzoni’s I promessi sposi.” MLN 113, no. 1 (January, 1998): 30-51. Ferlito discusses how Alessandro Manzoni’s representation of the mother-daughter bond in I promessi sposi implicitly recognizes and keeps at bay the critical potential of that bond and by extension female alliance among peasants.

Ferlito, Susanna F. Topographies of Desire: Manzoni, Cultural Practices, and Colonial Scars. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Drawing upon a wide range of current disciplinary debates in the fields of comparative politics, anthropology, cultural studies, and comparative literature, this book examines how Manzoni’s French and Italian writing produced differences between cultural discourses in a nineteenth century Europe that was not yet thought of as “naturally” divided between nation-states. Bibliography and index.


(The entire section is 438 words.)