Short summary - The Betrothed - Alessandro Manzoni

Italy literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Betrothed
Alessandro Manzoni

Don Abbondio, priest of a small village situated in that part of Lake Como where it turns southward between two mountain ranges and is all cut up by ledges and bays, returns home at sunset on November 7, 1628, after a pleasant walk. He is about to turn onto the path leading to the village when two sinister figures block his path. Their attire, appearance, and gimmicks—both have heads tied with a green net with a large tassel, long mustaches curled up, a pair of pistols attached to a leather belt, a huge dagger, and a broadsword with a brightly polished hilt—leave no doubt as to their occupation. These are the so-called bravos, dashing fellows who are hired for various, including very dubious, assignments. Poor Don Abbondio's soul instantly sinks into his heels and he painfully tries to remember if he was guilty of anything against the powers that be. On behalf of his master, the young and unbridled feudal lord Don Rodrigo, the Bravi demands that Don Abbondio cancel the wedding of the local peasant boy Renzo Tramaglino and his bride Lucia Mondella scheduled for tomorrow. The unfortunate priest is a kind person and does not wish harm to anyone, but he does not have the lion's courage at all and therefore avoids any clashes, and since they have touched him, he always takes the side of the strongest, making it clear to the weak that in his soul he is not his enemy. Tormented by remorse and even more acute attacks of fear, he spends an agonizing night. The next morning, Renzo Tramaglino, dressed to the nines, comes to him - a twenty-year-old guy, left without parents from a young age, has a small piece of land and is engaged in silk spinning, which gives him a modest but steady income. He burns with impatience to be united with his beloved Lucia and wants to discuss with Don Abbondio the last details of the upcoming wedding ceremony. But the priest meets the radiant bridegroom without the usual friendliness and embarrassedly and confusedly explains to him that the wedding cannot take place - there are good reasons for that. The wedding is postponed for a week. The talkative servant of Don Abbondio Perpetua, whom the priest entrusted with a terrible secret the day before, places doubts in Renzo's heart. He interrogates Don Abbondio passionately, talks to his fiancee and finally understands what the catch is: the insolent Don Rodrigo has tender feelings for pretty Lucia. After consulting, Renzo and the mother of the bride, Agnese, decide that the groom should take four capons with him, go to the large village of Lecco and find there a long, skinny, bald lawyer with a red nose and a raspberry mole on his cheek, whom everyone calls Hookworker - he knows everything laws and help find a way out of a difficult situation.

The lawyer readily agrees, but as soon as he hears the mention of the terrible Don Rodrigo, he hurries to get rid of the unlucky client and even returns the living "fee" tied up in the legs. Lucia comes up with the idea to seek help from the monk of the neighboring Capuchin monastery, Father Christopher, before whose authority even the most notorious tyrants bow. This already middle-aged monk is known not only for his piety, but also for the strict fulfillment of two duties that he voluntarily assigned to himself: pacifying strife and protecting the offended. Father Christopher boldly goes to the lair of the beast, which he hopes to tame with prayers or a description of the torments that await him in the afterlife. A stormy conversation has absolutely no effect - Don Rodrigo, his equally impudent Milanese cousin Don Attilio and drunken guests laugh at the monk and he leaves the luxurious villa, calling curses on the head of the wicked owner. The last resort remains - to get married without the consent of Don Abbondio, but in his presence. To do this, you need to bring two witnesses. The groom says, "This is my wife," and the bride says, "This is my husband." Everyone heard everything, the holy sacrament is considered accomplished. The main thing is to take the priest by surprise and not let him escape. God-fearing Lucia barely agrees to her mother and Renzo's dubious offer. She is convinced only by Renzo's threats to kill Don Rodrigo and the appearance of gloomy figures near their house. The next evening, when it is already dark, they try to carry out their intention. The betrothed and witnesses tricked into the priest's house, and Renzo utters the proper words, but Don Abbondio hurriedly throws a tablecloth over Lucia's head, preventing her from finishing the ceremony, and desperately calls for help. General confusion follows, alarmed by the cry of the priest, the sexton, awake, rushes to the bell tower and strikes the largest bell. By a happy coincidence, the frantic ringing forces the small detachment of bravos, led by the desperate thug Griso, sent by Don Rodrigo to kidnap Lucia, to retreat. The unfortunate betrothed and Agnese, who during the "operation" diverted the attention of the faithful servant of the priest Perpetua, flee to the Pescarenico monastery to Father Christopher. Under the cover of night, people devoted to him ferry the fugitives to the opposite shore of the lake and take them to Monza, where the high-ranking nun Gertrude takes Lucia under her protection. She, the last daughter of a powerful prince, was prepared for a monastic life even before her birth, like all sisters and brothers, except for the eldest, to whom her father wanted to leave a huge fortune intact. Against her will and the boiling of young passions, she becomes a novice about a year before the appearance in the monastery of Lucia, for whom she immediately feels affection.

Renzo, having said goodbye to the women, goes to Milan, where he finds himself in the midst of a hunger riot, when desperate townspeople rob and sack bakeries and storm the house of the food master. Unexpectedly for himself, Renzo becomes a people's tribune and expresses sound peasant thoughts about the social structure. He stops at a tavern for the night, orders dinner and, after drinking one or two bottles of good wine, allows himself too bold judgments about the actions of the authorities. The owner of the tavern considers it his duty to warn the police about the dangerous rebel. The next morning, two policemen and a criminal officer get him out of bed and tell him to follow them. On the way, he is freed by an excited crowd. Fearing once again to get into an unpleasant mess, Renzo leaves Milan and goes to the province of Bergamo (at that time the Duchy of Milan was under Spanish rule, and Bergamo belongs to the Most Serene Republic of Venice - it is worth crossing the Addu River, and you are already abroad). Here in the village lives his cousin Bortolo, from whom Renzo meets with a warm welcome and who gets him a job in his spinning mill. On the same day, November 13, when Renzo comes to Bortolo, a messenger arrives in Lecco with an order to arrest the fugitive criminal Lorenzo Tramaglino and escort him in shackles to Milan, where he will stand trial. Furious Don Rodrigo, from whom the coveted prey has slipped out of his hands, gloats and starts new intrigues. He wants revenge and revenge. With the help of an influential Milanese relative, a member of the Privy Council, he seeks the punishment of the obstinate father Christopher - his transfer from Pescarenico to distant Rimini. The thug Griso learns where Lucia is hiding, and Don Rodrigo plots to kidnap her from the convent. A small predator turns for support to a terrible powerful patron, whose name history has not preserved, so henceforth he will be called Nameless.

The abduction goes extremely smoothly: Gertrude submits to the will of the villain Egidio, who once helped her escape from the monastery and has an irresistible dark power over her. She sends Lucia on an errand to a nearby monastery, taking advantage of Agnese's temporary absence. The bravos seize the girl on a deserted road and take her to the gloomy castle of the Nameless One, where they entrust her to the care of an old shrew. It would seem that everything is lost, but the unpredictable and inexplicable happens - after meeting with Lucia, in the soul of the Nameless One, tired of endless atrocities, first a vague anxiety creeps in, and then an ever-growing longing. The sleepless night does not bring rest, Lucia's desperate pleas and especially her words ring in the ears: "God forgives so much for one merciful deed!" The next morning, the sinister character hears the jubilant ringing of bells and learns that Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, known for his mind, piety and scholarship, has arrived in the neighboring village. The nameless one asks for an audience with a high prelate, who never refuses mercy and consolation to anyone. Beneficial conversation brings to the repentant villain the desired cleansing. The miracle happened. The Nameless One becomes a different person and yearns for redemption. On behalf of the cardinal, overwhelmed by constant fears, Don Abbondio, together with the Nameless, goes to the castle for the unfortunate captive. Agnese is reunited with her daughter, but not for long - they again have to part. Upon learning that the cardinal is looking for a safe haven for Lucia, one noble couple - Don Ferrante and Donna Prassede - invites the girl to settle in her Milanese house. Don Rodrigo, killed by the news of the failure of such a well-planned operation, is bile for two days, and departs for Milan on the third. Before parting, Lucia confesses to her mother that in a moment of despair she made a vow to the Madonna never to marry if she manages to avoid the vile claims of Don Rodrigo. The Nameless One dismisses the bravos, accomplices of his atrocities, and gives Agnese one hundred gold scudos as Lucia's dowry. Lucia asks her mother to find Renzo and give him half the money. It takes a long time before she manages to fulfill the request.

Meanwhile, clouds are gathering over the country: in addition to the famine that claimed thousands of lives, in the autumn of 1629, cruel German landsknecht mercenaries, who participate in the redistribution of territories, invade the Duchy of Milan from the north. Rumor has it that cases of plague have been seen in their ranks. Frightened to death, civilians hurriedly gather their belongings, bury what they cannot carry, and flee. Agnese, Perpetua and Don Abbondio find a hospitable shelter in the castle of the Nameless, impregnable for enemies and open to all fugitives. Once the danger has passed, they return to the village and see that everything is looted and defiled. What Don Abbondio buried in the garden also disappeared. The plague enters Milan at the end of October 1629 and rages the following year, 1630. The authorities and the Sanitary Board show criminal slowness in the fight against the epidemic. Don Rodrigo, returning one night at the end of August from another drinking bout, discovers signs of an ominous illness. The "faithful" Griso sends the owner to the infirmary and takes possession of things, which causes his death.

The plague does not bypass Renzo either. Having barely recovered from his illness, he returns to his native village to find out what happened to his loved ones. Don Abbondio is barely alive from the hardships he has endured and still trembles with fear. Perpetua was killed by the plague, Agnese lives with relatives in Pasturo, and Lucia lives with Don Ferrante in Milan. Renzo hurries to Milan and sees desolation, despair and fear everywhere. At his knock on the window of Don Ferrante's house, an alarmed woman appears and informs him that Lucia is in the infirmary. At this moment, an excited crowd surrounds him. Cries are heard about the mazun - the peddler of infection. Renzo flees in a panic and escapes his pursuers by jumping onto a wagon with corpses. The betrothed meet at last in the infirmary. Father Christopher is also there, who with great patience and courage fulfills his pastoral duty - comforts the afflicted and gives the last communion to the dying. He frees Lucia from her vow of celibacy. Many owe him recovery, but his own life is taken away by a terrible disease. Gradually the plague recedes. She swept through Milan and Lombardy like a giant broom (according to Don Abbondio), which swept out the lives of the poor and the rich, honest people and villains - among the last of Don Rodrigo. His possessions pass to another owner. Don Abbondio can now marry happy lovers with peace of mind. The young couple settle in a village near Bergamo, and in less than a year their daughter Maria is born. It will be followed by who knows how many kids of both sexes - all of them, at the request of Renzo, will learn to read and write. Renzo loves to talk about how he learned to avoid trouble. Something in these stories does not satisfy Lucia. They argue, argue, and finally come to the conclusion that caution and good behavior do not help prevent trouble. But, since they collapsed, deservedly or innocently, only faith in God gives strength to overcome them, and the experience teaches how to make your life better.