Authors: Alessandro Manzoni

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Italian novelist and poet

March 7, 1785

Milan, Lombardy, Austria (now in Italy)

May 22, 1873

Milan, Italy


Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Antonio Manzoni, widely rated as one of Italy’s outstanding novelists on the basis of a single book, The Betrothed, was born in Milan in 1785, presumably the son of Pietro Manzoni and his wife, Giulia Beccaria, although there is some evidence to show that he was in fact the son of Giovanni Verri, one of his mother’s lovers. Manzoni’s grandfather was Cesare Beccaria, the famous Italian criminologist. Manzoni’s mother, legally separated from Pietro Manzoni, went to Paris with a wealthy Milanese banker, Count Carlo Imbonati, in 1796. Her son was sent to various religious schools in Merate, Lugano, and Milan. His grandfather had died of a stroke in 1794, and his father took little interest in him; consequently, Alessandro was miserable and lonely at school. When his education was completed in 1801 he lived for four years with his father in Milan, where he attended lectures and enjoyed the freedom of city life. About this time he began writing poems and making the acquaintance of other young writers in Milan. {$I[AN]9810000116} {$I[A]Manzoni, Alessandro} {$I[geo]ITALY;Manzoni, Alessandro} {$I[tim]1785;Manzoni, Alessandro}

Alessandro Manzoni

(Library of Congress)

In 1804 he received an invitation from Carlo Imbonati to stay with him and Alessandro’s mother in Paris, but before he reached Paris Imbonati was dead. Although he had never met Imbonati, he wrote the elegy “In morte di Carlo Imbonati” in an effort to console his mother. The count’s will made Alessandro and his mother financially independent; in addition to his fortune they inherited his villa at Brusuglio, near Milan. During his stay in Paris young Manzoni met Claude Fauriel, Madame Condorcet, and others who introduced him to the new Romantic movement in French literature. He returned to Italy in 1807.

In 1808 Manzoni married Henriette Blondel, daughter of a Swiss Calvinist banker. His wife became increasingly interested in Jansenism, and in 1810, after she had joined the Catholic Church, they were remarried in a Catholic ceremony in Paris. At the time Manzoni, a rationalist, was but nominally Catholic; however, an intense emotional experience soon after his remarriage brought about a genuine conversion. His group of poems The Sacred Hymns, published during the period between 1812 and 1815, reflect his religious concerns.

The Manzonis moved to the villa at Brusuglio, where in spite of revolution, Austrian occupation, and business difficulties the author spent his remaining years. In 1820 his first tragedy, Il conte di Carmagnola, appeared. It was received with adverse criticism, although Johann Wolfgang von Goethe came to Manzoni’s defense. When Napoleon died, Manzoni wrote his most famous ode, “The Napoleonic Ode,” and followed that with another tragedy, Adelchi. His most famous work, the historical novel The Betrothed, brought him literary fame upon its publication in 1827, and Manzoni spent most of his remaining creative effort on revisions and additions to this work and in writing minor essays.

In 1833 Henriette died. Four years later he married Countess Teresa Borri-Stampa, a widow, who died in 1861. Of his six daughters, five died young; his three sons were spendthrifts, drunkards, and troublemakers, and the eldest died one month before his father. Manzoni died on May 22, 1873, two weeks after he had been injured in a fall on the steps of the church of San Fedele in Milan.

Author Works Long Fiction: I promessi sposi, 1827, revised 1840-1842 (The Betrothed, 1828, revised 1951) Poetry: “Il trionfo della libertà,” 1801 Sermoni, 1801-1804 “A Francesco Lomonaco,” 1802 “Ode,” 1802-1803 “L’Adda,” 1803 “In morte di Carlo Imbonati,” 1805-1806 “Urania,” 1808-1809 Inni sacri, 1812-1815 (The Sacred Hymns, 1904) “Il cinque maggio,” 1821 (“The Napoleonic Ode,” 1904) “Marzo 1821,” 1821, 1848 Drama: Il conte di Carmagnola, pb. 1820 Adelchi, pr., pb. 1822 Nonfiction: Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica, 1819 Discorso sopra alcuni punti della storia longobardica in Italia, 1822 Lettre à M. C*** sur l’unité de temps et de lieu dans la tragédie, 1823 Lettre à Victor Cousin, 1829 La storia della colonna infame, 1842 (The Column of Infamy, 1964) Del romanzo storico, 1845 Lettera sul romanticismo, 1846 Lettre à Alphonse de Lamartine, 1848 Dell’invenzione, 1850 Sulla lingua italiana, 1850 Dell’unità della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla, 1868 Lettera intorno al vocabolario, 1868 Epistolario, 1882 Saggio comparativo su la rivoluzione francese del 1789 e la rivoluzione italiana del 1859, 1889 Sentir Messa, 1923 Bibliography Barricelli, Gian Piero. Alessandro Manzoni. Boston: Twayne, 1976. An introductory biography and critical study of selected works by Manzoni. Includes bibliographic references and an index. Colquhoun, Archibald. Manzoni and His Times: A Biography of the Author of “The Betrothed” (“I promessi sposi”). 1954. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979. One of the basic resources in English, this biography is by one of the best-known scholars of Italian literature. Illustrated. Ferlito, Susanna F. “Fear of the Mother’s Tongue: Secrecy and Gossip in Manzoni’s I promessi sposi.” MLN 113, no. 1 (January, 1998): 30-51. Ferlito discusses how Alessandro Manzoni’s representation of the mother-daughter bond in I promessi sposi implicitly recognizes and keeps at bay the critical potential of that bond and by extension female alliance among peasants. Ferlito, Susanna F. Topographies of Desire: Manzoni, Cultural Practices, and Colonial Scars. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Drawing upon a wide range of current disciplinary debates in the fields of comparative politics, anthropology, cultural studies, and comparative literature, this book examines how Manzoni’s French and Italian writing produced differences between cultural discourses in a nineteenth century Europe that was not yet thought of as “naturally” divided between nation-states. Bibliography and index. Ginzburg, Natalia. The Manzoni Family. Translated by Marie Evans. New York: Arcade, 1989. An especially good background study of the tradition and the history out of which Manzoni’s work was created. Ginzburg includes a family tree, a list of characters, and a map of Italy in the Risorgimento. Godt, Clareece G. The Mobile Spectacle: Variable Perspective in Manzoni’s “I promessi sposi.” New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Godt shows how Manzoni consistently represents what the eye sees (landscape, cityscape) and the mind conceives (characters’ plans, history) under different and often paradoxical aspects. Includes notes and comprehensive bibliography. Matteo, Sante, and Larry H. Peer, eds. The Reasonable Romantic: Essays on Alessandro Manzoni. New York: Peter Lang, 1986. An anthology of seventeen original essays (a few using deconstruction techniques) written by new and established Manzoni scholars to introduce Manzoni. The first section is a general introduction, followed by sections on Manzoni and Romanticism, language, history, and religion. Pierce, Glenn. Manzoni and the Aesthetics of the Lombard Seicento: Art Assimilating into the Narrative of “I promessi sposi.” Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1998. Chapters on documenting the Seicento and its literary sources, on Manzoni and “natural signs,” on spectacle as drama and art. Includes detailed notes and bibliography. Wall, Bernard. Alessandro Manzoni. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954. Chapters on the life and times, the poet and dramatist, The Betrothed and its place in literature, and controversial issues: Manzoni’s religion, the problem of language, and Romanticism. Provides biographical and bibliographical notes.

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