Day 23The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
March 15, 2023 by Michael F. Moore
This chapter is perhaps the novel’s deepest dive into Renzo’s conscience. As he makes his way in the dark, cold and frightened, he enters into an extended interior monologue. Lucia is usually considered the introspective one, but here we get a glimpse of Renzo’s thought process.
“Me? Raise hell? Me, kill all those gentlemen? I’d give my eye teeth to find myself face-to-face with that merchant on the other side of the Adda (whenever I do finally cross that blessed river!)… So watch what you say next time, especially about your fellow man.”
Amplifying his thoughts is the savage landscape through which he walks:
“The trees in the distance looked like strange, twisted monsters. He was unnerved by the shadows cast by the swaying treetops, which quivered on the trail between patches of moonlight. Even the rustling of leaves underfoot was unbearable.”
Here’s what he might be hearing.
Finally, the Adda:
“As he stood still, no longer crushing the leaves underfoot, everything around him fell silent. He started to hear a sound, a murmuring, the murmuring of running water.”
Here is the river, in Gonin’s rendering and in a painting by G. Carnovali from 1859:
“‘God’s will be done,’ was his answer to the most distressing thoughts. ‘God’s will be done. He has a plan. He is thinking of us, too.’”
The word “Providence” is invoked several times in this chapter, most noticeably in the last sentence:
“And it truly was Providence, because we are about to see how hard it would be for Renzo to get back the belongings and the money he had left at home.”
Ask an Italian and he or she will tell you that the main theme of the novel is “la Provvidenza Divina.” I am not sure I agree: Do we see God’s hand resolving the various “imbrogli” that occur, or should we credit, instead, human ingenuity?
An Italian poet once told me that Americans couldn’t appreciate The Betrothed since we didn’t understand Divine Providence. I replied, “I was born in Providence!” (Providence Rhode Island, that is!)