The Betrothed

by Alessandro Manzoni. Dutton, $5.00.
This accomplished new translation by Archibald Colquhoun revitalizes, for the English-speaking reader, one of the most inviting classics of Italian literature. Manzoni’s great novel, first published in 1826, tells of the adventures of two lowly peasant lovers whose marriage is long thwarted, first by a lecherous nobleman, then by the turmoil of the times. Around the figures of Renzo and Lucia, Manzoni unfolds all of seventeenth-century Italy and its dramas— its predatory noblemen, its murderous bravi, its servants of the Church, some saintly and some imperfect; its wars and plagues and famines. It is a lurid tapestry of a lurid epoch, but through it runs a subtle vein of irony and social satire. The technique is clumsy — any hack today knows more about the carpentry of the novel than Manzoni did — but the book transcends mere craftsmanship. If devotees of the historical novel are not discouraged by the fact this is a classic, it should achieve considerable popularity.