Love, lust, jealousy, corruption, betrayal, kidnap, social upheaval, murder, passion, and plague, Allessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi has all the elements of an epic love story. Written in 1827, the story is set during the Spanish rule of Lombardy in 1628, and follows two young lovers, Renzo and Lucia, across Italy as they fight to bind their love in holy matrimony.
Celebrated as Italy’s most widely read literary text, I Promessi Sposi is taught in Italian schools much like Romeo and Juliet is taught in the United States and Great Britain. Like the latter text, Manzoni’s story is not only studied and revered as a great love story, but also for its literary acumen, and questioning of religious, moral/ethical, and political philosophies. Diving his readers into Milan struck with plague in 1630, Manzoni unveils a visceral depiction of the continent’s most ravished and sordid time. And, much like Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy, the lead characters personify the power that ignites when two hearts become one.
Born into a broken home, Manzoni’s parents separated while he was still young, and he spent his childhood in boarding schools across Switzerland and Italy. Known for his reclusivity and nervousness in adulthood, Manzoni fathered ten children, only two of which survived him. Though he dabbled in poetry in his young adult life, the nationalistic pride of the Risorgimento spurred him to action, and he put pen to paper to bring to life the beloved text that would become his masterpiece.
Held in such high esteem throughout Italy, perhaps only surpassed slightly by the “Divine Comedy,” it is not quite clear why Manzoni’s name and that of his celebrated epic have not gained the same international attention as Dante’s. Steeped in Catholic rhetoric and bringing to question how members of the Church wield their power, some scholars believe the book is “too Italian” for a broader audience to truly appreciate it. Written with great lyrical prose and exquisite descriptions of people and place, there is no doubt that this beloved story should be more widely consumed and celebrated.