Shopping Cart



Day 15

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

Chapter 10 (to end)

March 7, 2023 by Michael F. Moore

“The true answer to that question leapt to Gertrude’s mind with a terrifying clarity. To give that answer, she would have to explain what had happened, say who had threatened her, tell the story… The unhappy girl shrank from this idea in fear. She hastened to find another answer, and found only one, the one farthest from the truth, which would free her from that torment swiftly and surely. ‘I am becoming a nun,’ she said, hiding her agitation, ‘I am becoming a nun of my own free will.’”

Gertrude discovers that it is easier to tell someone what they want to hear—to lie—than to relate the messy truth.

“And she gave her fateful reply.” Virtually every Italian knows this passage by heart: “La sventurata rispose,” and I am often asked how I translated it. In the earlier draft of the novel, Fermo e Lucia, this sentence is followed by a detailed account of the Signora’s descent into sin. Juicy reading, and the reason some Italians prefer this previous version. Manzoni’s decision to excise it persuades me, instead, that his story-telling instincts were on point. He sets our imaginations to work and lends the plot a bit of a cliff-hanger. But he also creates a dilemma, for in this moment his (and our own) compassion for the young girl should mutate to abhorrence at the actions of the adult woman.

So why did I translate it this way? Earlier translations rendered “sventurata” as wretch, which got me humming “Amazing Grace.” Italian has a way of turning adjectives into nouns that can sound pretty awkward if translated literally or, as is often done, following the adjective with “one.” A “sventura” is a moment of bad or adverse luck, a misfortune. But hanging over the Italian word is the notion of fate, of an unseen force determining the bad luck that has befallen you. So I took the word “fate,” shifted it to modify the noun “reply,” and after wavering between “fated” (controlled by fate) and “fateful” (a quality of ominous prophecy), I came up with “And gave her fateful reply.” I also just like the way it sounds.

Some critics have called these excursions “digressions.” I disagree. The novel embeds a series of stories within the larger plot that lend it variety and sparkle. Now that we have heard the nun’s story, Manzoni brings us back to the narrative present, and the prying questions about sex that La Signora is asking of Lucia. Once again, Agnese steps in with a little homespun wisdom:

“‘Don’t be surprised,’ she said. ‘When you know the world as well as I do, you’ll see that there’s nothing to be surprised at. Nobles are all a little bit mad: some more, some less, some in one way, some in another. It’s best to just let them talk, especially when you need them. Pretend that you’re taking them seriously, as if they were saying reasonable things.’”

Will someone please write a novel about Agnese?

Daily Reading

A Preview

A Preview

Day 1

Introduction & Chapter 1 (through pg. 13: "were still around.")

Day 2

Chapter 1 (to end)

Day 3

Chapter 2

Day 4

Chapter 3

Day 5

Chapter 4

Day 6

Chapter 5

Day 7

Chapter 6

Day 8

Chapter 7 (through p.108: “respective ranks.”)

Day 9

Chapter 7 (to end)

Day 10

Chapter 8 (through p.130: “the others filed behind him.”)

Day 11

Chapter 8 (to end)

Day 12

Chapter 9 (through p.151: “are also quite capable.”)

Day 13

Chapter 9 (to end)

Day 14

Chapter 10 (through p.174: “her closest relatives.”)

Day 15

Chapter 10 (to end)

Day 16

Chapter 11 (through p.193: “keep track of it.")

Day 17

Chapter 11 (to end)

Day 18

Chapter 12

Day 19

Chapter 13

Day 20

Chapter 14

Day 21

Chapter 15

Day 22

Chapter 16

Day 23

Chapter 17

Day 24

Chapter 18

Day 25

Chapter 19

Day 26

Chapter 20

Day 27

Chapter 21

Day 28

Chapter 22

Day 29

Chapter 23

Day 30

Chapter 24 (through p.396: “as soon as you’re ready.”)

Day 31

Chapter 24 (to end)

Day 32

Chapter 25

Day 33

Chapter 26

Day 34

Chapter 27

Day 35

Chapter 28 (through p.467: “their hands from hunger.”)

Day 36

Chapter 28 (to end)

Day 37

Chapter 29

Day 38

Chapter 30

Day 39

Chapter 31

Day 40

Chapter 32 (through p.534: “purpose of the conflict.”)

Day 41

Chapter 32 (to end)

Day 42

Chapter 33 (through p.554: “treatise on political economy.”)

Day 43

Chapter 33 (to end)

Day 44

Chapter 34 (through p.574: “the living were left.”)

Day 45

Chapter 34 (to end)

Day 46

Chapter 35

Day 47

Chapter 36

Day 48

Chapter 37

Day 49

Chapter 38

Sign up for A Public Space's Newsletter