The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, Limited Editions Club (1951)

The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi), by Alessandro Manzoni, first published in 1827, is one of the most famous, widely read and influential Italian novels ever written. Manzoni (1785-1873) was heavily influenced by Sir Walter Scott. The Betrothed, a historical novel, certainly ranks amongst the great works of World Literature, right there alongside of Scott’s more famous novels, such as Ivanhoe. Outside of the Divine ComedyThe Betrothed may be the most studied book ever to come out of Italy and its influence on the modern Italian language is quite substantial. The book’s themes include the strength of love, the triumph of individuals against tyranny and the ills of hypocrisy.

The Betrothed is a love story, similar in nature to many written before or since, where lovers face seemingly insurmountable obstacles to their union. In 1628 northern Italy, two young people in love, Renzo and Lucia, are kept from marriage by devious plots from the local baron, Don Rodrigo, who wants Lucia for himself, and whose power prevents the marriage due to influence over the local priest (Don Abbondio). Rodrigo has many “bravoes” (thugs) in his control, and hatches a plot to kidnap Lucia. Friar Cristoforo, a respected Capuchin, helps both Lucia and Renzo by sending them away, though to different locations. A long separation is in store, and various happenings occur — including food riots in Milan and also the plague, both real events in the time and place of this region —  that keep the story interesting and the eventual re-union in doubt. Eventually, through the efforts of Friar Cristoforo and the repentance and conversion of a previously evil baron, even more powerful that Rodrigo, known as  ‘the Unknown’, Renzo and Lucia are reunited and able to marry.

Alessandro Manzoni is given significant credit for the development of the modern Italian language, which in turn contributed to the unification of Italy. He wrote some poetry, a treatise and a tragedy, but the The Betrothed, his only novel (that I am aware of), is his greatest gift to us. His memory is probably best immortalized in Giuseppe Verdi‘s Requiem. If you have not read The Betrothed, you should. Besides its place in the pantheon of world literature, it is a good story, well written, captivating with themes as relevant today as the day they were written.

This Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition is quite nice. It is not nearly as elaborate as some LEC’s, but the quality from cover to cover is outstanding, as one expects from their Giovanni Mardersteig produced editions. Nice linen covers, excellent paper and type, etc. Best of all, the engravings are wonderfully produced and remain incredibly sharp in the sixty plus years since printed. Bruno Bramanti did an outstanding job with his engravings of the original illustrations by artist Francesco Gonin, whose work was the result of a commission by the author himself in 1840. In near fine condition, in my case with a somewhat sun darkened spine, this can usually be found for $50-100. It is well worth seeking out.

About the Edition

  • Illustrated with the designs of Francesco Gonin (1808-1889), commissioned by the author in 1840, engraved for this edition by Bruno Bramanti (1897-1957)
  • 1844 translation revised by Ronald H. Boothroyd, who also provides the introduction
  • Printed at the Officina Bodoni Verona by Giovanni Mardersteig (1892-1977)
  • Paper made at Miliani mills in Fabriano
  • Text is composed in 14 point monotype Garamond
  • Binding is of Italian linen with decorated paper sides wood-blocked by Varese of Milano
  • 7″ x 10.5″, 700 pages
  • One of 1500 copies, signed by Brumanti and Mardersteig

Pictures of the Edition

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The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Officina Bodoni Verona
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro Side View
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro Side View
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text - Introduction
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text – Introduction
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #1
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #1
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of  Illustration #1
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Illustration #1
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #2
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #2
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #5
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #3
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #6
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #4
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Illustration #6
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Illustration #4
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #7
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text with Illustration #5
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Betrothed, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

5 thoughts on “The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, Limited Editions Club (1951)

  1. Great novel, beautiful book design and production.

    As Chris has mentioned, this is one of the most important and influential novels in Italian literature over the past two hundred years. Amongst 19th century Italian literature it is rivaled in importance only by ‘The Leopard’, the great novel by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. In a sense, ‘The Leopard’ is the natural continuation of ‘I Promessi Sposi’. Whereas Manzoni’s novel and its introduction of a modern Italian language was essential in the transition of Italy from a country of feudal fiefdoms and noble, privileged families into a modern unified country, ‘The Leopard’ is the story of the decline and struggles of a Sicilian family as they see their privilege and way of life disappearing in the face of this unification process, Italy’s Risorgimento.

    The book is one of LEC’s most attractive in an understated, elegant way. Giovanni Mardersteig was genetically incapable of publishing anything that wasn’t beautiful, with careful attention to typography and book design. Many of the best George Macy-era LEC books were printed by his Officina Bodoni (OB), specifically: The Sonnets of Petrarch, The Divine Comedy, the Metamorphoses of Ovid (with stunning classical illustrations by Hans Erni), and The Georgics. The OB, of course, was one of the greatest continental publishers in the twentieth century and their books are almost always worth seeking out.

    Fortunately, the LEC edition of ‘The Leopard’ is stunning. It was published in 1988 as new owner Sidney Shiff began the transition from George Macy’s “private press for Everyman” to an elite private press specializing in livres d’artistes featuring outstanding and internationally known artists and spare-no-expense books of uncompromising beauty costing thousands of dollars. The Leopard is within what I euphemistically refer to as the “Sidney Shiff sweet spot” — a period of several transitional years in which Shiff’s LEC produced books of extraordinary quality that rivaled the work of the best private presses for prices that were far below their worth. While a copy of ‘The Leopard’ in fine condition today will cost several hundred dollars, far more than most George Macy LEC books, it remains an exceptional bargain. So……… treat yourself and purchase both of these LEC titles. You will learn more about twenty-first century Italy reading these two novels than you will visiting Italy as a tourist for a week or two.

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