Last Updated on September 5, 2023, 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 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.