Day 22The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
March 14, 2023 by Michael F. Moore
Renzo’s flight from the authorities, with the encouragement of the passersby, echoes the much earlier flight of Ludovico to the monastery (Chapter 4).
During this period, Bergamo—which is in the region of Lombardy today—belonged to the Republic of Venice, and thus under the jurisdiction of a separate state. The map at the beginning of the book illustrates the borders between the various states, duchies, and republics into which northern Italy was divided.
In his rustic innocence, Renzo gave an inflammatory speech, believing for a moment that everyone in the crowd was a friend. Now his peasant wariness kicks in, and he regards the citizens with greater circumspection. I love the way he sets about asking for directions, a strategy I am sure many of us have adopted when we don’t know where we’re going:
“And in these dire straits, Renzo had to scrutinize about a dozen faces before he could find one that was reassuring. There was the portly gentleman standing in his shop doorway, legs spread wide, hands behind his back, belly out, chin up, and a fat wattle draped below it. Seeming to have nothing better to do, he alternated between raising his tremulous mass on tiptoe and rocking back on his heels. But he had the appearance of a nosy windbag who, rather than give an answer, would have only asked more questions.”
The accompanying illustration is no match for this Dickensian description.
To thrust the escape from Milan into high relief, Manzoni switches to the present tense:
“Renzo arrives in Piazza del Duomo. As he crosses it, he passes a pile of ashes and spent coals, and recognizes the remains of the bonfire he witnessed the day before. He walks by the steps to the Duomo and sees the Forno delle Grucce again, half demolished and guarded by soldiers. And he goes straight down the road from which he had come with the mob. He reaches the Capuchin monastery. He casts a glance at the piazza and the door to the church, and says to himself, sighing, ‘I should have listened to what the friar told me yesterday: Stay in church, wait, and do a good deed.’”
In this chapter, the biggest threat to Renzo is nosy people.