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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655

The novel begins the day before Don Abbondio, a parish priest, has scheduled to perform marriage rites for two of his parishioners, Lorenzo and Lucia. Two agents of a local nobleman visit the priest and threaten him with death if he meets his obligations, successfully scaring him into obedience. The...

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The novel begins the day before Don Abbondio, a parish priest, has scheduled to perform marriage rites for two of his parishioners, Lorenzo and Lucia. Two agents of a local nobleman visit the priest and threaten him with death if he meets his obligations, successfully scaring him into obedience. The young man and woman try and trick the priest into being present while they covertly exchange vows, but he works out what is going on and runs away. The local nobleman’s motives in preventing the marriage of Lorenzo and Lucia are material, not romantic, in that he has wagered with his cousin that he will be able to seduce Lucia while she is still a virgin. To this end, he sends his henchmen to kidnap her, but they, too, run away when Don Abbondio discovers them and rings the church bells as an alarm. Lucia, Lorenzo, and Lucia’s mother take shelter with another clergyman, Fra Cristoforo, who arranges for Lucia to be sent to a convent in Monza to be looked after until the danger passes.

Don Rodrigo, the nobleman who tried to kidnap Lucia, enlists the help of a more powerful nobleman called “The Unnamed” so as to steal Lucia from the convent. The Unnamed discovers that the woman in whose care Lucia currently resides has had an argument with one of the other nuns and has engaged one of his men to murder her. With this information as leverage, he convinces her to send Lucia out of the convent and straight into his hands.

Lorenzo, who was sent by Fra Cristoforo to a monastery in Milan, has become caught up in civil unrest in that city concerning a shortage of food. After he drunkenly confesses his guilt for inciting a crowd to riot in the hearing of a police agent, he is arrested, though he is subsequently liberated by another mob. Fleeing from Milan to the land around Venice, he finds work with a distant relative but is soon on the run again, with the agents of Milan close behind him. The Unnamed, meanwhile, having brought Lucia to his mountain retreat, is racked with guilt once he sees how innocent she is. He refuses to hand her over to Don Rodrigo and instead seeks council from a cardinal as to what to do with her and her mother. The cardinal recommends that Lucia and her mother go to live with a noblewoman, renowned for her charity and good works, at whose home the pair will be safe from the mischief of Don Rodrigo.

A year passes, during which time Lucia and Lorenzo (who cannot return to Milan because of his exile) exchange letters, wherein Lucia admits that she promised in prayer never to marry if she was granted escape from the clutches of The Unnamed. Lorenzo returns to Milan, taking advantage of a plague that has caused chaos in the region. He finds his betrothed in the “Pesthouse” because she has caught the plague. Don Rodrigo has caught it as well and is in a far worse state than she is. Also present is Fra Cristoforo, back from the exile in which he was placed by a vengeful Rodrigo. The friar convinces Lorenzo to forgive the dying nobleman and to pray for his salvation. After being assured that her vows are not valid, since she made previous marriage vows in the presence of Don Abbondio, Lucia agrees to return to the village where she once lived with Lorenzo, a village now mostly wiped out by plague. The new nobleman in charge of their village, though the son of the now dead Don Rodrigo, proves a nice man and, incidentally, a friend of the cardinal who had arranged for Lucia’s stay with the noblewoman. The couple are married and move to the land around Venice, where Lorenzo gets work in a silk mill and Lucia has a number of healthy children.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1033

On the day before he is to perform the marriage ceremony for Lorenzo and Lucia, two young peasants, Don Abbondio, parish priest at Lecco, is warned by two armed henchmen of Don Rodrigo, a tyrannical noble, not to marry the pair. In fear for his life, Don Abbondio refuses to perform the marriage when asked to do so by the young couple. When they try to trick him into being present while they exchange vows, he dashes away into hiding.

The reason for the warning given to the priest is that Don Rodrigo wishes to seduce Lucia. He is not in love with the young woman, but he wagered his cousin that he can have her for his enjoyment while she is still a virgin. Toward this end, he sends a crew of his henchmen to abduct the girl from her home. Appearing at Lucia’s home, they are frightened away by the tumult aroused when the priest causes the alarm to be sounded by tolling the church bell.

Frightened, Lucia seeks aid from a saintly Capuchin, Fra Cristoforo, who gives her, her mother, and Lorenzo temporary haven within the walls of the monastery while he makes arrangements for the safety of all three, away from the wrath and wickedness of Don Rodrigo. He sends the girl to seek sanctuary with a Capuchin chapter at Monza, along with her mother. He sends Lorenzo to another monastery in Milan.

Arriving at Monza, Lucia is put under the care of a nun who belongs to a noble family that placed her in the convent rather than pay a dowry. The nun is a headstrong woman and, in some ways, wicked, but the Capuchins think Lucia will be safe under her care. Lucia remains hidden for some weeks.

Don Rodrigo initiates a search for her until his henchmen discover her place of refuge. Fearing that he can never take her from the sanctuary, Don Rodrigo enlists the aid of a powerful noble called the Un-named. The Un-named, grateful for past services by Don Rodrigo, agrees to aid his vassal in abducting the woman and in teaching a harsh lesson to peasants who think they can defy the nobility.

The Un-named learns that one of his men living near the convent is to murder a nun who displeased the woman to whom the Capuchins sent Lucia. As a result of the murder committed for her benefit, the nun is forced to enter into the scheme and send Lucia out of the convent. Once out of the sanctuary, Lucia is kidnapped by the Un-named’s men and taken in a coach to his mountain retreat.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo fails to reach the Capuchin monastery in Milan. Upon his arrival in the city, he finds the populace in turmoil because of a shortage of bread. He takes part in a riot, and afterward he becomes drunk in a tavern. While drunk, he babbles to a police spy that he incited a crowd to riot, and the spy has him arrested by the police. Another mob releases Lorenzo from the police. With a price on his head, he flees from the Duchy of Milan into territory controlled by Venice. There he locates a distant relative who finds work for him in a silk mill. When the authorities of Milan try to have him returned to that city, Lorenzo flees again and assumes a fictitious name in another Venetian community.

The Un-named is moved by Lucia’s beauty and innocence and refuses to turn her over to Don Rodrigo. Instead, he goes to Cardinal Federigo and announces that he suffered a change of conscience and wishes to end a career of tyranny and oppression. The churchman welcomes him as an erring parishioner. Lucia is released from her imprisonment in the noble’s mountain castle and returns once again to the keeping of her mother. Rather than send the woman to her home and the persecution of Don Rodrigo, Cardinal Federigo sends Lucia and her mother to the home of a noblewoman known for her charity. There Lucia will be safe.

Don Rodrigo, angry because Fra Cristoforo aids the young woman and so preserves her honor, causes the removal of the Capuchin to Rimini. More than a year passes; Lorenzo is unable to return to the Duchy of Milan because of his banishment. Corresponding with Lorenzo through letters, Lucia tells him that in her period of duress she vowed to the Virgin that she will never marry if released from the clutches of the ruffians. Finally, because of the time that intervenes and the confusion that arises because of a plague, Lorenzo decides to return to Milan, where Lucia is staying with the charitable noblewoman. While searching for her in a city desolated by the plague, he contracts the disease. After his recovery, he continues his search, only to learn that Lucia is ill and was sent to the pesthouse, along with thousands of other unfortunates who contract the disease.

At the pesthouse, he finds Fra Cristoforo, who went to Milan to aid the sick. Among his patients the Capuchin has Don Rodrigo, who catches the plague and is near death. Fra Cristoforo makes Lorenzo pardon Don Rodrigo and promise to pray for his soul. Continuing his search for Lucia, Lorenzo finds her convalescing in the women’s section of the pesthouse. After their reunion, Fra Cristoforo tells Lucia that her vow to the Virgin is not valid, inasmuch as she previously exchanged betrothal vows with Lorenzo.

When the plague subsides, Lorenzo goes back to their village and finds that the plague almost wiped out its population, although sparing Don Abbondio and Lucia’s mother. While he is there, the new heir to the estate arrives, Don Rodrigo having succumbed to the plague. With the new incumbent’s aid, for he is a friend of the cardinal who befriended Lucia, the betrothed couple return to Lecco and are at last married by Don Abbondio.

After their marriage, the couple move, again with the nobleman’s aid, to a new home in the Venetian territory, where Lorenzo plies his trade in a silk mill, and he and Lucia rear a large and healthy family.

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