Alessandro Manzoni

1785-1873. Romantic poet and Italian novelist. Though educated in the Somaschi schools, he was influenced by the theories of the Encyclopedists,* Voltaire, and the Revolution. By 1810, however, having come in touch with the Jansenist circle in Paris (led by the Abbé Degola), he had returned to the Christian faith, thence devoting his literary talent to the writings of works which had as collateral aim the proclamation of Christianity. Between 1812 and 1832 he published Inni sacri, sacred lyrics in which he exalts the great events of Christendom (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.) and their significant influence on humanity, while in his tragedies (Conte di Carmagnola, Adelchi) he develops the theme of justice and sovereignty of God as opposed to the oppression of the rulers. But it is in his great novel I promessi sposi (“The Betrothed,” 2nd ed., 1820-42) that the author concentrates all his favorite Christian themes, i.e., the absolute control of Providence over men's lives and actions, the beauty and comfort of the simple faith of two humble peasants and other poor people who lived in the seventeenth century-one of the most difficult times in Italian history-and the sanctity of priestly vocation as opposed to the interests and ambitions of many Roman Catholic clergy.

Though Manzoni's conversion took place in Jansenist circles, it is difficult to assess to what extent he adhered to their doctrines. Throughout the novel he attacks with Jansenist rigorism any aspect of morale facile such as the end justifying the means; but in the conversion of one of his major characters he compromises, and the event is an act of grace completed by good works. Of interest here is also a treatise Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica (1819) in which Manzoni attempted to refute the attacks made by the historian Sismondi in his Histoire des republiques italiennes.

See Risorgimento.