Thursday, August 8, 2013

Expanding My Literature Horizon........

This post was originally published on Our Hearts' Haven in February 2011. I LOVED this book.....and I want to encourage others to read it.


I recently finished reading "the most famous and widely read novel of the Italian language."
I am so very excited to have accomplished this! 

 Hmmm......that inspires me....perhaps I could read the "most" of every language.....I wonder what those books could be......leave a note in the comment section if you are aware of specific titles....

So.......what book did I read, you ask?
En Italiano:              

I Promessi Sposi

….....or, if you prefer, en Engles:          

The Betrothed

 Alessandro Manzoni

       It is odd, but when I finished, I could not decide how I felt about it. What would I say? Could I recommend it? Did I enjoy reading it? Did I learn from it? Should I read what was written about it on the Internet to decide?

        I knew Willa was going to ask me about my opinion.......I was thinking, thinking. I could not part with the book.....I still had it two weeks later, borrowed from the library. There was something precious about it.....even if I could not name it......and I was not yet ready for that to end. If I let the book go, I would have to admit that I must move on.

       I really want someone else to read we can talk about it. I have not found anyone else who has read it, yet. I have decided that Willa must read it. :)   (She has, since I originally wrote this....we just have not found the right moment for discussion.)

       Ultimately, I have decided that I DID enjoy it. I relish my memory of it immensely. It was a bit of work to read through......especially because the author seemed to need to give much background info for each new thing brought into the story, whether it was about laws, history, the plague, a specific person’s back-story. This created many breaks in the story....reminding me of the style of Victor Hugo with Les Miserables.

(Hey!  Do you think Les Miserables is the most widely FRENCH novel of all time???  If so, I can check that off my list!  And what about War and Peace???  Does that count for Russian?  I hope so!  I guess I need to get that Don Quixote read...I only made it 50 pages last year before I got distracted by Lent.  Do you think that would cover Spain?)

A little background info on the publication of this novel:

Originally published in 1827, the author, Alessandro Manzoni, re-wrote and published it a decade or so later because ........
“The age-long dispute as to which dialect should be used as the standard language of Italian prose engaged the interest of Manzoni in his later years; and, becoming convinced of the claims of Tuscan, he rewrote the entire novel in order to remove all traces of non-Tuscan idiom, and published it in 1840. This proceeding had the effect of rekindling the discussion on the question of a national Italian literary language - a discussion which still goes on. Along with the revised edition of "I Promessi Sposi," he published a kind of sequel, "La Storia della Colonna infame," written more than ten years before; but this work, overloaded with didacticism, is universally regarded as inferior. Both at home and abroad, Manzoni`s fame rests mainly on the novel here printed, a work which has taken its place among the great novels of the world, not merely for its admirable descriptions of Italian life in the seventeenth century, but still more for its faithful and moving presentation of human experience and emotion.”

A couple of quotes from the book.......

The first is probably the most often quoted:

“When a friend, then, indulges in the joy of unburdening a secret on to another friend's bosom, he makes the latter, in his turn, feel the urge to taste the same joy himself. He implores him, it is true, not to tell a soul; but if such a condition were taken absolutely literally, it would at once cut off the flow of these joys at their very source. The general practice is for the secret to be confided only to an equally trustworthy friend, the same conditions being imposed on him. And so from trustworthy friend to trustworthy friend the secret goes moving on round that immense chain, until finally it reaches the ears of just the very person or persons whom the first talker had expressly intended it never should reach.”

"After a long debating and searching together, they concluded that troubles often come, yes, because we've given us a cause; but that the most cautious and innocent conduct isn't enough to keep them away; and that when they come, with guilt or without guilt, the trust in God sweetens them, and makes them useful for a better life. This conclusion, although found by poor people, has seemed us so just, that we have thought to put it there, as the juice of all the story." (Second-last paragraph)

You can find the complete text online.

      I love this review by Edgar Allen Poe. He uses the majority of his words praising and comparing the author to others.....but barely spends much time actually discussing the novel itself. He published the review in 1935, before the final presentation of the novel had even appeared.

      This is so cool! A “map” of where the chapters take place.Check out the “Categorized Markers “on the left side of the page. Click on number 14 for a gorgeous view.

      Of course, the link at Wikipedia will tell you much about the author and his novel.

DO NOT FOLLOW these links below, if you have yet to read the book, and plan to do so. There are spoilers present.

      This link is mostly useless and I do not agree with their take on the descriptions of the characters, but there are four books listed at the bottom of the page that look good for further research into Manzoni.

      This brief literary note has excellent insight in comparing the two main priests in the story, though I disagree with calling Don Abbondio's qualities "almost evil" as I do not believe the priest was "evil" at all....but simply self-centered in his protection of himself. And very naive as well as simple-minded.

      Now, a few weeks later, I can say that I have fallen in love with this novel. While occasionally a bit difficult to get through, it is a truly lovely story. When I began the novel, I had no idea how beautifully Catholic it was going to be. The primary characters maintain their faith through so much hardship. I was so surprised by some of the history. I know more than I ever thought I wanted to know about the Milan plague of 1629. Manzoni creates a fascinating window to the time period of 1628-1631. It was just like being there. The pictures he has drawn of the characters are so detailed, and those details so crisp, you feel that you know each as well as you possibly could.

        Though he was a side character, he was most important, and probably one of my favorites: Cardinal Federico Borromeo, cousin to Saint Charles Borromeo, with whom many of you probably have more familiarity. The Cardinal was so good and so wise, I could not help myself in my adoration. He was well-educated and created a library or two, including the first public library in Europe (and this in the 1600’s!).......qualities I also find endearing. ;) Do follow the link on his name to learn more about him.

A few words from what the online Catholic Encyclopedia has to say about the good Cardinal:

"He was one of those men rare in every age, who employed extraordinary intelligence, the resources of an opulent condition, the advantages of privileged station, and an unflinching will, in the search and practice of higher and better things."

In The Betrothed, the Cardinal is involved in a miraculous conversion. He is so kind to the poor and the plague-infested. I love this man. Or, the idea of him. I intend to spread word about him.

      The motivation to read this novel came when I discovered it listed in a book of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I found it on the shelf at the library when I was doing some curriculum planning. I placed it on the girls’ World Literature list to cover Italy....but I wanted to pre-read it first.  I am so grateful for the experience.  All of my kids will read it, in their last year or two of high school.  It is "clean and safe" book, but you need do need to be a strong reader, as well as a persistent one.  If your kid can handle Dickens, they can handle this.  :)

      I need to get my two (FOUR now!) graduated kids on it soon.  Perhaps in the summer, when they are not reading such heavy literature already......since they both are basically "majoring" in literature at school!


PS  After reading this book......I then read a biography about St. Charles Borromeo, just to get closer to the dear Cardinal in the story........if you have never read his life story, please do.  He was one of those saints that you know is well-known.......but then you find how he is involved in the history of the are so surprised and gratified by his life.  I think he was a little too severe on a few people......he was not necessarily a "people- person", but he was amazing and really listened to God's will in life.  He was instrumental in helping popes......I think one of the popes was his cousin or friend. both books. 

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