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Proselytization as a Nationalist Project

Alessandro Manzoni the Convert(er)
  • Ariella Lang
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Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)

Abstract

The most popular story told of Alessandro Manzoni’s conversion links him to Napoleon, contrasting the religious conservatism of one of Italy’s leading intellectuals with the leader of revolution and secular modernity. On April 2, 1810, the story goes, Alessandro Manzoni was in Paris with his wife Henriette. The City of Lights was celebrating the wedding of Napoleon and Marie Louise, and some of the fires that the crowds lit grew out of control, causing a great deal of confusion and panic. The Manzonis found themselves caught up in the crowds, and to escape the throngs of people Manzoni sought refuge in a nearby church. Accounts of the story diverge at this point: Some versions suggest that Manzoni went in to escape the crowds and that he had a sudden revelation as he sat in the Church of St. Roch.1 According to other narrators, Manzoni’s conversion was precipitated by his separation from his wife in the Parisian crowds. Desperate to find her, Manzoni entered the nearby Church of St. Roch and exclaimed: “God, if you exist, reveal yourself to me, let me find Henriette.”2 Upon successfully finding Henriette in the church, amid the chaos of the celebration, Manzoni declared his renewed faith in God and the Catholic Church.

Keywords

French Revolution Liberal Ideal Biblical Story Paternal Authority Italian Author 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    In his work Alessandro Manzoni. Reminiscenze (Milan: 1892), Cesare Cantu confirms this version of the story, as does R. Barbiera…Il Salotto della Contessa Maffei (Milan: 1895). Giovanni Visconti Venosta gives a similar account in his Ricordi di gioventiu (Milan: Cogliati, 1906). Cristoforo Fabris, in his Memorie manzoniane (Milan: 1901), recounts a similar story. Finally, while Giuseppe Giusti does not mention the occasion of Napoleon’s wedding, he also attests to fireworks and the crowds of Paris as the reason that Manzoni found refuge in St. Roch. Cited in Piero Fossi, La conversione di Alessandro Manzoni (Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1974), 75.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For further discussion of Manzoni and the issue of agoraphobia, see Massimo Riva, Malinconie del moderno: Critica dellincivilmento e disagio della nazionalita nella letteratura italiana del XIX secolo (Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2001), 115–35.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Numerous scholars have discussed the stories of Manzoni’s conversion. For an excellent overview of many of these stories, see Fossi, 75–78, and John Lindon, “Alessandro Manzoni and the Oxford Movement: His Politics and Conversion in a New English Source,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 45, no. 2 (April 1994): 297–318. Umberto Colombo also refers to several of these stories in his essay, “I silenzi del Manzoni,” Otto/Novecento 9, no. 1 (1985): 41–72. In addition, they are discussed in Emma Pistelli Rinaldi, “Il cosiddetto ‘miracolo di san Rocco’ nella conversione del Manzoni,” Italianistica 14, no. 3 (1985): 433–57; and in Francesco Ruffini, “La ‘conversione’ del Manzoni,” Manzoni: Testimonianze di critica e di polemica, ed. Giorgio Bárberi Squarotti and Marziano Guglielminetti (Florence: G. D’Anna, 1973),Google Scholar
  4. 39.
    39–44. And finally, they receive attention in Cesare Angelini, Con Renzo e con Lucia (e congli altri). Saggi sul Manzoni (Brescia: Morcelliana, 1986).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Davide Norsa, Pensieri dun cattolico (Prato: Guasti, 1850), 6.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    G. Giorgini (Vittoria’s husband), letter to Carlo Magenta, 1876, in Manzoni intimo, vol. 2, ed. Michele Scherillo (Milan: U. Hoepli, 1923), 257.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Kenneth Stowe, Alienated Minority: the Jews of Medieval Latin Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 13. For further discussion of Pauline conceptions of conversion, also see Marina Caffiero, La nuova era: miti e profezie dellItalia in Rivoluzione (Genoa: Marietti, 1991). Also see Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert: the Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990). The Gospels also speak of Christianity as the extension and fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, although Paul connects this association much more clearly to his own Jewish background.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Renato Moro, “L’atteggiamento dei cattolici tra teologia e politica,” Stato nazionale ed emancipazione ebraica, ed. F. Sofia and M. Toscano (Rome: Bonacci Editore), 313. On this subject, see also Giovita Scalvini, Foscolo, Manzoni, Goethe, ed. Mario Marcazzan (Turin: Einaudi, 1948), 209–37.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Lynn Gunzberg briefly refers to these stories, and to Manzoni’s conversion, in her work Strangers at Home: Jews in the Italian Literary Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 59.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    John Gatt-Rutter, “When the Killing Had to Stop: Manzoni’s Paradigm of Christian Conversion,” The Italianist 10 (1990): 9. Gatt-Rutter’s essay concentrates on defining the pattern of conversion that can be found in Manzoni’s novel, and in this sense, the objective of his essay is quite different from my own study.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Manzoni met Henriette on a trip he took with his mother to Lake Como. For a thorough treatment of his early years, see Mario Sansone, Manzoni Francese (1805–1810): DallIlluminismo al Romanticismo (Rome: Laterza, 1993). For a complete biography of Manzoni, see Natalia Ginzburg, La famiglia Manzoni (Turin: Einaudi, 1994). A briefer biographical overview, as well as an overview of Manzoni’s writing, can be found in Francesco De Sanctis, Storia della letteratura italiana. DallOttocento al Novecento (Turin: Einaudi, 1991).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Undated letter to Fauriel, believed to have been written in October, 1807, Carteggio di Alessandro Manzoni, vol. 1, eds. Giovanni Sforza and Giuseppe Gallavresi (Milan: U. Hoepli, 1912), 118.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Alessandro’s mother not only sanctioned the marriage; she herself had turned to Calvinism following the death of Imbonati and even had plans to become a nurse in the largely Protestant city of Geneva. See G. G. Orelli’s letter to Davide and Regula Orelli, February 12, 1808, Carteggio, vol. 1, 138–9.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Eustachio Degola, Eustachio Degola, il clero costituzionale e la conversione della famiglia Manzoni, ed. Angelo de Gubernatis (Florence: G. Barbera, 1882), 481. Count Somis to Abbot Degola, June 28, 1810.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    Vittorio Spinazzola, Il libro per tutti: saggio suiPromessi Sposi” (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1983), 10.Google Scholar
  16. 31.
    Carlo Dionisotti, Manzoni and the Catholic Revival (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 12.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    Typological readings mean that the Old Testament is read as prefiguring the stories of the New Testament. As the Vatican itself wrote recently, “Typological interpretation consists in reading the Old Testament as preparation and, in certain aspects, outline and foreshadowing of the New.” “Notes on the Correct way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Church,” written by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, 1985, and cited in James Shapiro, Oberammergau (Vintage Books: New York, 2000), 94.Google Scholar
  18. 37.
    Giovanni Miccoli, “Santa Sede, questione ebraica e antisemitismo fra Otto e Novecento,” in Storia dItalia, Gli ebrei in Italia, Vol. 11.2, ed. Corrado Vivanti (Turin: Einaudi, 1972), 1394–95. Miccoli cites a pamphlet entitled Il faglio di Maria un fratello di più, in Continuazione delle memore di religione di morale e di letteratura, vol. 13 (Modena, 1842), 89–147, which speaks of Ratisbonne’s conversion. Another example can be found in Lettera di Giacomo Forti a suoigenitori israeliti per la sua conversione dal gin daismo alla fede cristiana, in Annali delle Scienze Religiose, 18, no. 53 (Rome, 1844): 3–12.Google Scholar
  19. 38.
    For further details, see Conversione miracolosa alla fede cattolica di Alfonso Maria Ratisbonne, avvenuta in Roma nella Chiesa dei PP. Minimi in S. Andrea delle Fratte. Tratta dai processi autentici formatisi in Roma nel 1842 (Roma: G. Cesaretti, 1864). Also see René Laurentin, 20 janvier 1842, Marie apparait a Alphonse Ratisbonne, vol. 1–2 (Paris: O.E.I.L., 1991).Google Scholar
  20. 46.
    Manzoni describes Protestantism in terms similar to Norsa. The Protestants, writes Manzoni, “lay down a principle from which they remove the consequence, which is destructive of the principle itself. They want free interpretation, and it is upon this that they would like to establish their unity.” See Giuseppe Borri, I colloqui col Manzoni (Bologna: Zanichelli Editore, 1929), 202.Google Scholar
  21. 48.
    Manzoni expresses similar visions of fratricide in his poem Il conte di Carmagnola. For further discussion of the nationalist and Catholic themes of the poem, see Alberto Band, La nazione del Risorgimento (Turin: Einaudi, 2000), 133–39.Google Scholar
  22. 49.
    These attributes are generally associated with Romanticism, and they certainly mark a change in the direction of Manzoni’s writing. The question of whether Italian Romanticism existed (Gino Martegiani, an Italian student of German Romanticism famously claimed in 1908 that it did not exist) is beyond the scope of the present discussion. I use the term Romanticism to refer to a specific historical period—a conventional label for those who considered themselves to have Romantic attributes or defined themselves as “Romantics.” For examples of Manzoni’s early writing, see Poesie di Alessandro Manzoni prima della conversione, ed. Alberto Chiari (Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1947). For a discussion of Manzoni’s relationship to Romanticism and neoclassicism, see Francesco De Sanctis, La scuola cattolico-liberale e il romanticism a Napoli, ed. Carlo Muscetta and Giorgio Candeloro (Turin: Einaudi, 1953), 353–59.Google Scholar
  23. 50.
    For further discussion of the relationship between Manzoni’s religious conversion and his writing, see Filippo Puglisi, LArte del Manzoni (Rome: Edizioni Studium, 1986).Google Scholar
  24. 51.
    The rejection of pagan mythology should thus be considered a crucial aspect of PS. For further discussion, see Lucienne Portier, “La conversion d’Alessandro Manzoni et son refus de la mythologie,” Revue des Etudes Italiennes 10 (1964): 92–100.Google Scholar
  25. 52.
    Cited in Giovanni Carsaniga, “The Age of Romanticism (1800–1870),” The Cambridge History of Italian Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 429.Google Scholar
  26. 53.
    For further discussion of Manzoni’s identification with modernity, see Ezio Raimondi, Letteratura e identita nazionale (Milan: Mondadori, 1998).Google Scholar
  27. 54.
    For an interesting discussion of this issue and an overview of Manzoni’s work more generally, see Giulio Bollati, LItaliano: Il carattere nazionale come storia e come invenzione (Turin: Einaucli, 1983), 3–13.Google Scholar
  28. 58.
    Salvatore Nigro, II Primo ottocento: letà napoleonica e il risorgimento (Rome: Laterza, 1978), 39.Google Scholar
  29. 59.
    Tanto piacque al Signor di porre in cima / questa fanciulla ebrea. / 0 prole d’Israello, o nell’estremo / Caduta, o da si lunga ira contrita, / non e Costei che in onor tanto avemo, / Di vostra fede uscita? / Non e Davidde il ceppo suo? Con Lei / Era il pensier dei vostri antiqui vati, / Quando annunziaro i verginal trofei / Sopra l’inferno alzati. / Deh! A Lei volgete finalemente i preghi, / Ch’Ella vi salvi come salva i suoi; / E non sia gente ne tribu che neghi / Lieta cantar con noi: / Salve, o degnata del secondo nome, / O Rosa, o Stella ai periglianti scampo, / Inclita come il sol, terribil come / Oste schierata in campo.” Alessandro Manzoni, Il Nome di Maria, in “Manzoni’s inni sacri and il cinque maggio. A Translation,” Joseph Tusiani, Annali dItalianistica 3 (1985): 36–7. For a complete, annotated Italian version of the poem, see Alessandro Manzoni, Inni Sacri, ed. Franco Gavazzeni (Parma: Ugo Guanda Editore, 1997), 65–86. For a thorough analysis of the poem, albeit with little on the significance of Manzoni’s biblical references, see Silvana Ghezzo, “Il nome di Maria nel Nome di Maria di Alessandro Manzoni,” Otto/Novecento 4(1983): 185–93.Google Scholar
  30. 60.
    Antonio Prieto, “La logica della sua conversione,” Manzoni Pro e Contro, vol. 3, ed. Giancarlo Vigorelli (Milan: Istituto di propaganda libraria, 1975–1976), 261.Google Scholar
  31. 61.
    Robert Dombroski, “The ideological question in Manzoni,” Studies in Romanticism 20, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 499. It should be noted that Manzoni’s firm support of Christian values and the Catholic Church did not necessarily translate into absolute support of the pope; while it falls outside of the boundaries of our discussion here, it is noteworthy that Rome and the pope go almost unmentioned in Manzoni’s novel, as opposed to the next work in this study, Bresciani’s LEbreo di Verona. Opposed to papal temporal power, Manzoni believed that the sovereignty and moral authority of the pope would be guaranteed and better protected if the pope did not have any political power.Google Scholar
  32. 64.
    Alessandro Manzoni, PS, 279. All English citations are taken from Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed and History of the Column of Infamy, ed. D. Forgacs and M. Reynolds (London: J. M. Dent, 1997).Google Scholar
  33. 65.
    Lindon, 306. Luigi Colombo discusses this connection in his work, … e non era piu lago ma specchio del cuore … Scritti e discorsi di argomento manzoniano (Lecco: Comune di Lecco, 1985). For a thorough discussion of the Innominato, see Annette Leddy’s essay, “The Conversion of Manzoni’s L’Innominato or, the Repressed Catholic Consciousness of a Criminal,” Carte Italiane 2 (1980–1981): 27–41. In addition, some space is devoted to his conversion in Angelini 111–15.Google Scholar
  34. 68.
    Riccardo Verzini, “Il sogno della giustizia non violenta,” I mondi impossibili: lutopia, ed. G. Barbed Squarotti (Turin: Tirrenia Stampatori, 1990), 175.Google Scholar
  35. 71.
    Angelo Marchese, “Il grande capitolo di Renzo,” Humanitas 40, no. 1 (1985), 12.Google Scholar
  36. 82.
    Davide Albertario, “Il Giansenista ha messo alla luce il liberale,” Manzoni pro e contro, vol. 1, ed. G. Vigorelli (Milan: Istituto propaganda libraria, 1974), 448.Google Scholar
  37. 83.
    “[Si], quel Dio che nell’onda vermiglia/chiuse il rio che inseguiva Israele,/ quel che in pugno alla maschia Giaele/ pose il maglio ed il colpo guido.” Alessandro Manzoni, Opere, ed. Di Riccardo Bacchelli (Milan: Riccardo Ricciardi Editore, 1953), 77.Google Scholar
  38. 84.
    Mazzini also borrowed from Bible stories to envisage the formation of the Italian nation as a religious fact in and of itself and to this end developed “a religious, quasi missionary conception of literature as the embodiment in time of universal values (such as country, freedom, destiny).” See Carsaniga, 444. In his vision of Italy, however, no place existed for the pope or the Papal States. Indeed, to a certain degree Romanticism and secularism appeared to go hand in hand, and, just as the Enlightenment posed the greatest stumbling block for eighteenth-century Catholic culture, in the nineteenth century, the cultural contest for Catholicism lay in the rise of Romanticism. Thus, what is surprising about Marzo 1821 is that Manzoni, a papal supporter, would be the author of such a work. Numerous other writers used biblical stories of the Israelites as an archetype that reflected the cause of national liberation. In his essay on the subject, Bruno Di Porto discusses works of Verdi, Goffredo Mameli, Carlo Cattaneo, Niccolò Tommaseo, and Massimo D’Azeglio. See his essay, “Gli ebrei nel Risorgimento,” Nuova Antologia 115, no. 3 (1980): 256–72. For further discussion of Mczvzo 1821, see Banti, 61.Google Scholar
  39. 91.
    This vision of Catholicism and the New Testament as the replacement for Judaism and the Hebrew Bible is expressed succinctly in an essay written many years after PS by another Catholic intellectual, Roberto D’Azeglio. While D’Azeglio is more conservative than Manzoni, and the essay probably more melodramatic than Manzoni would have written, Manzoni would certainly have endorsed the ideas behind them: “The voice of God no longer thunders from Sinai, but from the Vatican, and men listen to it with equal reverence.” Roberto d’Azeglio, “Pio IX e Roberto D’Azeglio,” LArmonia 13, no. 14 (1860): 53.Google Scholar

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