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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250

The impulsive young Fabrizio del Dongo, longing for a life of adventure outside his wealthy Italian family’s palatial home, is caught up in the romance surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Europe—to which his family is steadfastly opposed. Changing his name to join the French forces, he has numerous misadventures that...

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The impulsive young Fabrizio del Dongo, longing for a life of adventure outside his wealthy Italian family’s palatial home, is caught up in the romance surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Europe—to which his family is steadfastly opposed. Changing his name to join the French forces, he has numerous misadventures that place him in the Battle of Waterloo; after escaping, he makes his way back to Italy. His doting Aunt Gina has become involved with Parma’s prime minister, Count Mosca; together they become Fabrizio’s patrons and enroll him in seminary to prepare him for a career in the Church hierarchy.

Fabrizio goes along with the plan, but his romantic nature leads to infatuation with several young women, which lands him in trouble. After a budding romance with Marietta, an actress, is quashed by her protector, Giletti, Fabrizio ends up killing him. While he initially escapes, soon he is convicted and sent to prison. Through a series of complicated machinations set in motion by Aunt Gina, not only does Fabrizio escape, but the prince responsible for his conviction is also murdered.

At last, Fabrizio can take his place as a Church official, even becoming an archbishop—a position that does not prevent him from falling in love once more. While it seems this time that his happiness will be less ephemeral, his lover Clelia and their infant soon die. Now disillusioned of his worldly ambitions, the brokenhearted man retreats to a monastic life in Parma’s charterhouse.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 975

Early in the nineteenth century, Fabrizio, son of the marchese del Dongo, grows up at his father’s magnificent villa at Grianta on Lake Como. His father is a miserly fanatic who hates Napoleon and the French; his mother is a long-suffering creature cowed by her domineering husband. In his boyhood, Fabrizio is happiest when he leaves Grianta and visits his aunt, Gina Pietranera, at her home in Milan. Gina looks upon her handsome nephew as if he were her son.

When he is nearly seventeen years old, Fabrizio determines to join Napoleon. Both his aunt and his mother are shocked, but the boy stands firm. Fabrizio’s father is too stingy to allow Fabrizio’s mother or his aunt to give Fabrizio any money for his journey, but Gina sews some small diamonds in his coat. Under a false passport, Fabrizio makes his way to Paris as a seller of astrological instruments.

Following one of Napoleon’s battalions out of Paris, Fabrizio is arrested and thrown into jail as a spy. His enthusiastic admiration for the emperor and his bad French are marks against him. Released from jail by the kindhearted wife of the turnkey, Fabrizio presses on, anxious to get into the fighting. Mounted on a horse he buys from a good-natured camp follower, he rides by accident into a group of hussars around Marshall Ney at the Battle of Waterloo. When a general’s horse is shot, the hussars lift Fabrizio from the saddle, and the general commandeers his horse. Afoot, Fabrizio falls in with a band of French infantrymen and, in the retreat from Waterloo, kills a Prussian officer. Happy at being a real soldier, he throws down his gun and escapes.

Meanwhile, at home, Gina succumbs to the romantic advances of Count Mosca, prime minister of Parma. They make a convenient arrangement. Old Duke Sanseverina badly wants a diplomatic post. In return for Mosca’s favor in giving him the post, he agrees to marry Gina and set her up as the duchess of Sanseverina. Then the duke leaves the country for good, and Mosca becomes Gina’s accepted lover. It is a good thing for Fabrizio that his aunt has some influence. When he returns to Grianta, the gendarmes come to arrest him on a false passport charge. He is taken to Milan in his aunt’s carriage. On the way, the party passes an older man and his younger daughter, also arrested but condemned to walk. Graciously Gina and Fabrizio take General Conti and his daughter Clelia into the carriage with them. At Milan, Fabrizio’s difficulties are easily settled.

Gina is growing very fond of Fabrizio, who is a handsome youth, and she takes him with her to Parma to advance his fortune. There, upon the advice of Mosca, it is decided to send the young man to Naples to study for three years at the theological seminary. When he comes back, he will be given an appointment at court.

At the end of his studies, Fabrizio is a suave, worldly young monsignor, not yet committed to a life of piety despite his appointment as alternate for the archbishop. At the theater one night, the young cleric sees a graceful young actress named Marietta Valsera. His attention soon arouses the anger of a rascal called Giletti, Marietta’s protector.

Fearing the consequences of this indiscretion, Mosca sends Fabrizio to the country for a while to supervise some archaeological excavations. While looking over the site, Fabrizio borrows a shotgun and walks down the road to look for rabbits. At that moment, a carriage drives by, with Marietta and Giletti inside. Thinking that Fabrizio intends to take Marietta, Giletti leaps from the carriage and rushes at Fabrizio with his dagger. In the fight, Fabrizio kills Giletti. The alarmed Marietta takes Fabrizio with her to Bologna. There his aunt’s emissaries supply him with ample funds, and Fabrizio settles down to enjoy his lovely Marietta.

News of the affair reaches Parma. Political opponents of Mosca find an opportunity to strike at him through Gina, and they influence the prince to try the fugitive for murder. Fabrizio is tried in his absence and condemned to death or imprisonment as a galley slave.

Fabrizio soon tires of Marietta. Attracted by a young singer named Fausta, he follows her to Parma. There he is recognized and imprisoned. In spite of his influence, Mosca can do little for Gina’s nephew, but Fabrizio is happy in jail, for Clelia, the daughter of his jailer, is the girl to whom Fabrizio offered a ride years previously. By means of alphabet cards, the two are soon holding long conversations.

Outside, Gina makes plans for Fabrizio’s escape. With the help of a poet named Ferrante, she arranges to have ropes smuggled to her nephew. Clelia is to carry them in to Fabrizio. Fabrizio escapes from the tower and flees to Piedmont. At Parma, according to Gina’s instructions, Ferrante poisons the prince who condemned Fabrizio to imprisonment. In the resulting confusion, Gina and Fabrizio return to Parma, now governed by the new prince. Pardoned, he is named coadjutor by the archbishop. Later, he becomes archbishop and attracts great crowds with his preaching. In the meantime, Clelia marries a rich marchese. One day, moved by curiosity, she comes to hear Fabrizio preach. Her love finally leads her to take him for a lover. Every night he comes to her house. After their child is born, Fabrizio takes the baby to his own house, and Clelia visits her small son there. Fabrizio, however, is happy only a short time. The infant dies, and Clelia does not long survive her child. Saddened by her death, Fabrizio gives up his office and retires to the Charterhouse of Parma, a monastery on the river Po, where quiet meditation fills his days.

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