Day 33The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
March 25, 2023 by Michael F. Moore
Despite his faults, especially considering the damage his refusal to perform the marriage would cause, there seems to be a shifting of sympathies here, starting with Manzoni’s own interjection:
“At this, Don Abbondio, who had struggled to answer less pointed questions, was left speechless. And, to tell the truth, even I—manuscript before me and pen in hand, contending only with words and fearing only the criticism of my readers—even I feel a certain reluctance to go on. For there is something unsettling about this effortless deploying of so many fine exhortations: to fortitude and charity, to diligent caring for others and boundless self-sacrifice. But when I realize that all this was said by a man who actually practiced them, I forge bravely ahead.”
At the center of Cardinal Borromeo’s exhortation is a single word: love. I was tempted to use the biblical word, Charity, but its meaning today has shifted, and we are more inclined to interpret it as the giving of alms, helping the poor.
“Even if they had provoked you, offended you, tormented you, I would still tell you (would I have to?) to love them for this very reason. To love them because they have suffered, because they still suffer, because they are your children, because they are weak, because you need forgiveness, and their prayers will help you immensely to receive it.”
Lucia finally confesses to her mother that she made a vow to the Blessed Mother, and cannot marry Renzo. For once, it’s Agnese criticizing her daughter for being venal:
“Listen to me. People who need money are happy to get it, but this money isn’t going to make Renzo any better off.”
Page 438. And where is poor Renzo? He’s had to change his name and his workplace to avoid arrest. Notice that here Manzoni states, “Now for the facts,” signaling a transition to the historical narrative that will animate the next few chapters.
But he cannot resist a comic note. Renzo’s new boss,
“thought the youth a bit dim-witted at first, since whenever he called out, ‘Antonio,’ he didn’t always get an answer.”