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rich story of passions, writing, rivalries, deaths, and war.
Set in ducal Italy and post-revolutionary France, The Manzoni Family tells a rich story of passions, writing, rivalries, deaths, and war. It pivots on the figure of Alessandro Manzoni, celebrated Milanese nobleman, man of letters, and author of the masterpiece of nineteenth-century Italian literature, I promessi sposi (The Betrothed). But the tale begins with the matriarchal figure of Giulia, the mother whom the young poet found in Paris after she had abandoned him as an infant.
There is Enrichetta, the woman he and his mother chose to be his wife, and the many children she had by him until her death; literary friends from the beau monde in Italy and Paris; and Alessandro's second wife, Teresa, and her children. Against the background of Napoleonic occupation, the reestablishment of Austrian hegemony, and the stirrings of the revolutionary urge for unification and independence, Ginzburg gracefully weaves the story of a dynasty, the Manzoni family, that seems to grow autonomously around the life of the writer and to incorporate all the epic tumult and emotion of the age.
As social history, with something of the flavor and immediacy of fiction, this story of a famous family stretching from 1762 to 1907 is interesting and well done. The book skillfully stitches together biographical facts and numerous family letters, the latter showing how, during the Napoleonic era, the risorgimento and beyond, the Manzonis, and to an extent upper-class Italians in general, thought, felt, aspired and suffered (the premature death rate among the Manzonis was appalling). The disappointments here are that few of the men and women in Ginzburg's crowded gallery are memorable for their personalities or achievements. Even Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), the main focus, comes through more vividly as a distracted family man than as the man of letters and author of the famous romantic novel I promessi sposi. Ginzburg, an Italian member of parliament, is the author of All Our Yesterdays.