On the Historical Novel

On the Historical Novel

On the Historical Novel

On the Historical Novel

Synopsis

Alessandro Manzoni was a giant of nineteenth-century European literature whose I promessi sposi ( The Betrothed, 1928) is ranked with War and Peace as marking the summit of the historical novel. Manzoni wrote "Del romanzo storico" ( "On the Historical Novel") during the twenty years he spent revising I promessi sposi. This first English translation of On the Historical Novel reflects the insights of a great craftsman and the misgivings of a profound thinker. It brings up to the nineteenth century the long war between poetry and history, tracing the idea of the historical novel from its origins in classical antiquity. It declares the historical novel- and presumably I promessi sposi itself- dead as a genre. Or perhaps it justifies I promessi sposi as the climax of a genre and the end of a stage of human consciousness. Its importance lies both in its prospective and in its retrospective contributions to literary debate.

Excerpt

My purpose in translating Alessandro Manzoni's "Del romanzo storico" is quite simple. Manzoni's is the major nineteenth-century essay on the historical novel, and it has never, to my knowledge, appeared in English. In my translation, I have tried to present a readable version to Anglo-American students of the novel, aesthetics, and literary history, not to mention of Manzoni himself.

Although translations of nineteenth-century Italian prose can sound quaint and convoluted to twentieth-century American ears, Manzoni's original rings with a vigor and irony that are as appealing now as they were over one hundred years ago, and I have tried to capture something of this complex energy. My Italian source was the text as originally published in the Opere varie, but later reprinted and edited by Michele Barbi and Fausto Ghisalberti, Opere di Alessandro Manzoni, vol. 2 (Milan: Casa del Manzoni, 1943). Manzoni's original includes a good number of footnotes, all of which I have translated, setting my own notes apart with a preliminary "[Ed.]." I also found helpful some of the commentary supplied by René Guise in his excellent French translation of the piece in the collection Les Fiancés (trans. Antoine François Marius Rey‐ Dussueil), L'Histoire de la colonne infâme (trans. Antoine de Latour), and Du Roman historique (trans. René Guise) (Paris: Delta, I968), and refer to his contributions more than once in the notes of my own English version.

At many points in the essay, Manzoni quotes Latin and, in one case, Provençal texts in the original language. His readers, brought up on more classical fare, did not need translations. But most American readers do, and in an attempt to communicate as directly with the public today as Manzoni did with his own, I have left the original foreign-language text in the body of the work but offer an . . .

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