The Manzoni Family is a meeting between two authors who at first glance could hardly seem more different. Alessandro Manzoni is simply the most celebrated figure in modern Italian literature. His great novel The Betrothed, published in quite different editions in 1827 and 1840, is the first modern novel in Italian, the later edition marking a milestone in the consolidation of Tuscan Italian as the language for a potentially united Italy. Profoundly Catholic in inspiration, the book was placed at the core of the Italian school syllabus after the country achieved unification in 1861 and still offers a linguistic and moral example to generation after generation of Italian children.
Natalia Ginzburg, on the other hand, was a Jewish novelist and a Communist, whose husband Leone Ginzburg died in a Fascist prison during World War II. While Manzoni’s prose now seems elaborate, sometimes magniloquent, Ginzburg’s is as spare, droll, and laconic as Italian writing ever gets. While he narrated grandiose drama in one eight-hundred-page tome, she chronicled the intimacy of the humdrum in eight rather slender novels and novellas. He was a lifelong phobic who suffered frequent panic attacks and found it impossible to leave the house without company and protection. She showed great courage and initiative during the war, saving her children and herself from the Nazi round-ups of the Jews in Rome after her husband’s death. But perhaps most of all, Manzoni was a profoundly religious man whose faith is very much at the center of his writing. Ginzburg was not religious at all and had nothing to say on the matter. Read More