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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

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Alessandro Manzoni reached back two centuries to set The Betrothed within the complex history of Italy before national unification. The powerful nobles of the different regions brutally exercised control over the peasants in their territories and sustained complex alliances and feuds with the leaders of other duchies and kingdoms. By focusing on the plight of two lovers who endure all manner of hardships before they are finally allowed to marry, the author emphasizes the human cost of the social turmoil of the times. He also exposes the corruption within the Catholic Church that went hand in hand with the political intrigue.

While Lorenzo and Lucia truly love each other and are ready to marry, the evil Don Rodrigo thwarts their plans because of his own lust for the young woman. Not only are the lovers sent away for their own safety before Rodrigo's men can abduct her, but they must find refuge in separate locations. Lucia and her mother enter a convent, where they are temporarily safe.

Lorenzo, on the other hand, travels alone and gets caught up in a bread riot and ends up in jail. His youthful foolishness has serious consequences, as he must flee Milan. Unfortunately, this means that Lucia is now unable to find him. However, he gets work in silk manufacturing—an important commercial enterprise of the time; in this transition, he is representative of the transition of the peasantry into artisans and the development of a new class hierarchy that was a significant change in this period.

The theme of pestilence or plague enters the novel as both lovers, like thousands of other Italians, succumb to the disease—at least for a while. While Manzoni stresses the literal contagion and its devastating effects, he also suggests that the figurative significance of social evils' effects are paralleled by the physical sufferings.

The alliances that were forged between the nobles do not hold up, as the Un-named noble that Rodrigo thought would back him decides not to follow through. The idea that a pure young beauty could move such a powerful man seems a sign of hope for the nation's future; Manzoni suggests that some members of the aristocracy exhibited good morals and behavior.

In the convent, Lucia soon learns that corruption has tainted the nuns. Her chief ally, caught in a murderous plot, turns on her, forcing her to move to a new location. In the second convent, Lucia finds the faith that had eluded her and decides to become a nun. Lucia eventually decides against committing to be a bride of Christ, however; she realizes that a secular—though still devoted—life is her desire. The proper union of the lovers at the novel's end can also be seen to foreshadow the larger social unity that Manzoni envisioned for his land.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381


*Milan. Northern Italian city that was a place of authoritarian rule and Spanish and Austrian domination during the seventeenth century, in which this novel is set. Milan experiences one crisis after another. When the young peasant hero Lorenzo becomes separated from his betrothed, Lucia, he enters Milan, initially unaware that it is experiencing a devastating famine. Price-fixing and tariffs on bread provoke rioting and disorder. A gullible countryman, Lorenzo gets caught up in the rioting and is arrested. After escaping from the city, he later returns to look for Lucia and finds Milan looted, barren, death-ridden, almost like a ghost town, Moreover, plague has hit the city so hard that Lorenzo finds its streets littered with dead bodies. Manzoni’s grim description of Milan is an accurate picture of its condition during the seventeenth century.


Village. Unnamed village, about one mile east of Lecco, near Lake Como, in which Lucia lives with her mother. In this village lies the source of all troubles that prevent Lucia and Lorenzo from marrying. They must first escape from the villainy of a local nobleman, Don Rodrigo. Lucia’s departure from her home village is painful to her because it contains all that she knows and loves in life. Don Rodrigo has Lucia captured and taken to a castle, where Lucia bemoans her separation from Lorenzo.

This village is a poignant locale because Lucia and Lorenzo are betrothed and are supposed to be married as planned, but the simple act of taking a marriage vow is thwarted and the lovers have to leave the place for safety elsewhere. This village is also a common theme concerning country people who are prone to gossip and rumors, as is often the nature of country and rustic ways of life. The lovers’ sudden departure in the middle of the night is a great cause for villagers to speculate and gossip from one ear to the other until the news reaches the nobleman. His wrath provokes an all-out scheme of capturing and separating Lorenzo and Lucia at all costs.


*Bergamo. Italian city about nine or ten miles from the River Adda. Lorenzo comes here under a false name and takes a labor job after fleeing from Milan. Eventually, he finds a way to communicate with Lucia.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 229

“Alessandro Manzoni.” In Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Vol. 29, edited by Laurie DiMauro. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991. Contains a brief biography, an overview of The Betrothed, and excerpts form the criticism of numerous Manzoni critics. Includes bibliographic citations. An excellent starting place.

Barricelli, Gian Piero. Alessandro Manzoni. Boston: Twayne, 1976. The most thorough introduction to Manzoni in English. Provides a biography that focuses more on his life after his conversion to Catholicism in 1810 than on his life preceding the conversion. Examines his poetry and essays. Analysis of The Betrothed: its characters, styles, and themes.

Chandler, S. B. Alessandro Manzoni: The Story of a Spiritual Quest. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1974. An insightful investigation of Manzoni’s works, showing how the works demonstrate Manzoni’s spiritual development and his movement toward a spiritual view of life.

Matteo, Sante, and Larry Peer, eds. The Reasonable Romantic: Essays on Alessandro Manzoni. New York: Peter Lang, 1986. A collection of critical essays on the range of Manzoni’s works. Some of the essays are excerpted in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism.

Wall, Bernard. Alessandro Manzoni. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954. Provides an overview of the life of Manzoni and his role as poet and dramatist before examining The Betrothed, its place in literature, and the controversies of Manzoni’s religion, of his use of the Italian language, and of the novel’s relationship to Romanticism. Sometimes criticized for its brevity.


Critical Essays