For Italy + Book Lovers: Alessandro Manzoni’s “The Betrothed”
Read a 19th-century Italian classic with APS Together!
I don’t recall the first time I heard my husband and his high school friends talking about Alessandro Manzoni’s book I promessi sposi. Apparently, those early conversations worked their way into my head and memories just like the Italian language did - slowly and one word at a time. Manzoni’s great novel, its title meaning “The Betrothed,” was first published in 1842 and has left its mark on generations of Italians who are (generally speaking) forced to read it in high school. Ah, how may great books are wasted on the young? (Very much a joke given my background.)
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Having read my fair share of Italian classics, from Dante to Virgil, Petrarch and Machiavelli, as well as my modern favorites Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, I promessi pposi was a classic I didn’t even know I wanted to read until I moved to Italy. (I do love myself a chunky 19th-century novel after all.) Over the past 16 years, I have occasionally picked up a dusty copy of I promessi sposi from a bookshelf—it’s in many Italian houses—and marveled. Often considered the “father of the modern Italian language,” Mazoni’s vocabulary is massive. The idea of reading the work in Italian seemed another lifetime away yet.
"If Dante is the country’s supreme poet, Manzoni is its supreme novelist." —Michael F. Moore
And yet, my interest in Manzoni didn’t wane. I was curious about this book that was so much a part of the Italian culture and yet was so little known outside of Italy. Last autumn, when I read about Michael F. Moore’s new translation of The Betrothed (with an excellent intro by Jhumpa Lahiri), I thought this was the chance. The first new translation in 50 years! (For more background, this article on Italy’s Great Historical Novel is what I read.) I ordered a copy and when it arrived … I continued to marvel. (Readers: Why “procrastinate” when you can “marvel”?)
The truth is, I didn’t want to tackle it on my own.
Enter A Public Space. One night, not long ago, I picked up my phone after dinner and opened Instagram. This post popped up:
A Manzoni virtual book club! Born out of Covid-19 isolation, A Public Space Together began in March 2020 with a slow reading of War and Peace hosted by Yiyun Li. Many virtual book clubs and slow reads popped up during the various lock downs around the world, and the continuation of them even as the world opened has been a great reminder of just how much books and good conversation can bring people together. (Side note: Since spring of 2021, I’ve been enjoying the Welty at Home Virtual Book Club organized by the Eudora Welty House & Garden and hosted by Welty’s friend and biographer Dr. Suzanne Marrs. To sit here in my tiny house in Amalfi and join in a conversation with passionate readers around the world is a treasure.)
APS Together Reads The Betrothed
But back to Manzoni. Starting tomorrow—February 21, 2023—APS Together is presenting The Betrothed hosted by translator Michael F. Moore. APS Together is now on Substack (hurray!) and you can read along slowly (just about a half-hour each day) with notes from Moore each day. Check out this post below for Moore’s preview and thoughts about translating Manzoni. (He wrote out the first draft by hand with a fountain pen! *swoons*)
While I’ll be traveling for the first part of the reading—and won’t be toting around the 648-page novel—I’ve got the audiobook and e-book downloaded already. Here’s the reading schedule if you’d like to come along on this particular Italian adventure:
So what do you say? Meet you on the shores of Lake Como?
Ciao from Amalfi,
What a good idea, I wonder if there are any virtual Shakespeare groups?