The Manzoni Family

Written by Natalia Ginzburg
Review by Viviane Crystal

Alessandro Manzoni, the eminent author of I Promisse Sposi (The Betrothed) was a famous poet and novelist whose family is depicted herein in their ordinary lives during the late 1700s and 1800s. The story, ironically, begins with the tale of his mother, Giulia, who literally abandons him as a child and who he finds later in Paris. After a slight period in which they manifest their rage about that devastating act, Alessandro falls in love with his mother, and she can henceforth do no wrong. Later he will marry Enrichetta, who will be a devoted wife for over 25 years, bearing him five children.

This novel is partly a telling of their travels around Italy, back and forth from Paris and other spots in France, and a series of letters to and from family, friends and colleagues. Every person they knew is named, and the story is belabored with descriptions of every illness those in and outside of the family endure, as well as the far too many deaths that occur. One keeps waiting in vain for more thoughts about the content of his famous poetry as well as the two novels he writes. What does come across powerfully is the family’s religious conversion and deep devotion. The rest is meandering, detailed accounts of moving, illness, writing, waiting for translations, and attempts to live more pious lives. The Manzoni Family is an unremarkable depiction of a literary giant and his family, one deserving of so much more literary attention and analysis.