Featured Post

Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I promessi sposi

One thing I like to do is read in Italian or Portuguese. It is just difficult enough so that I have to struggle to understand, but I can still get enough information to follow the plot. I read the first chapter of I promessi sposi, the most famous Italian novel. It starts with a description of a river flowing down in a hilly terrain in Lombardy, in Northern Italy. It is the 17th century. Spain controls the region. A priest, don Abbondio, is walking and his way is blocked by two bravi, or bandits. Description of characteristic dress of bandits. Long digression about bandits, citing authorities with aristocratic titles who have written about the subject, sometimes with conflicting views. The priest lifts his head up from the book he is reading and the bandits tell me that don Rodrigo, their patron, does not want him to perform a marriage the next day between Renzo and Lucia. I'm assuming those are the promessi sposi of the title. He will be killed if he performs the marriage. Why did every agree to marry Renzo? Long digression on the nature of power and how it is distributed. The actual authorities have very little power, and only punish the crimes of those who aren't powerful. Everyone bands together in groups, guilds or associations, aristocrats have their own bandits on payroll, etc... This priest, who has nobody to protect him, makes sure he never has to take sides in a dispute. When he does, he takes the side of the more powerful party. He is turning around the problem in his head as he walks back home. He is greeted by his faithful woman servant, Perpetua, who asks him what is wrong. He says "niente" or nothing, but she knows there is something. He drinks some of his favorite wine. The servant knows "when to obey and when to command." He spends the night tossing and turning with his dilemma.

The main techniques are description, authorial digression, dialogue, and free indirect style. Fairly standard 10th century realism. The theme seems to be the nature of power itself.

1 comment:

Professor Zero said...

OK, I must read. It sounds like Doña Perfecta and the Pazos de Ulloa. It is not culto or avant-garde to enjoy melodrama but I do.