Day 34The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
March 26, 2023 by Michael F. Moore
The War of the Mantuan Succession. I had considered writing an extensive footnote to explain it, and I have indeed included a brief description in my historical notes at the end of the novel, but when I read the opening to this chapter again, I realized that Manzoni’s account was sufficient. Today we might call this a proxy war: a dispute over a small territory that pitted the great powers against each other.
An anti-war statement:
“The siege was going badly, dragging on and sometimes losing ground because of the solid, vigilant, and determined resistance of the besieged; Don Gonzalo’s own lack of men; and, according to some historians, his many blunders. I won’t argue with them, and should this be true, I am even willing to find it beautiful if, for that reason, one fewer man was left dead, wounded, or maimed, and ceteris paribus—all things being equal—the roof tiles of Casale were to suffer a little less damage.”
Odd, Manzoni’s use of the adjective “bellissima” here. Is this meant as a parody of the way some historians glorify the exploits of war?
Page 447. The correspondence between Agnese and Renzo, via scribes or “dragoman” (I had to look that one up!), is a tragicomedy. The comedy is obvious. But at the heart of these garbled messages is a sad truth: Renzo will not be able to marry Lucia, but has “no intention” of setting his heart at peace.
The library of Don Ferrante has been the subject of many a scholarly study. In the past few chapters Manzoni has paused the narrative to describe two collections of books: the massive library assembled by Federigo Borromeo; and the paltry reading of the tailor. Now he rifles through a whole catalog of books, some (but not all) of questionable value. Manzoni tries to step in before it is too late:
“I am starting to wonder whether the reader really wants to hear any more of this catalogue, and to fear that you may have begun to consider me a servile copyist, and as much of a bore as the anonymous writer, for having so naïvely followed Don Ferrante far afield of the main story, down this tangent in which he has been so long-winded probably only to boast of his learning and show that he wasn’t behind the times. But what’s written is written, and I’ll have to keep it, so as not to waste my efforts, but I’ll skip the remaining books so we can get back on the main road; especially since we have a long way to go before we will encounter any of our characters, and an even longer way still before we find the ones at the center of the events that most interest the reader, if indeed the reader finds anything interesting in all this.”
The chapter ends on an ominous note:
“But in the end, they would be swept up by new, more widespread, powerful, and extreme circumstances, affecting even the least of them, according to the scale of the world. Like a giant whirlwind that pursues, wanders, splits, and uproots, ripping up roofs, stripping the stucco off bell towers, tearing down walls, and casting debris everywhere, even blowing away the twigs hidden in the grass, seeking out the dried rotting leaves in the corners where a breeze had borne them, and then carrying them around in the grips of its plunder.”