Manzoni embeds his sources in his text—citations from the gride and old chronicles such as Giuseppe Ripamonti’s Historia patria. The result is not only a historical novel but a kind of historiographical novel that invites the reader to enter the dynamic of reading and writing history ... What we get is not only an evocation of past languages of authority attempting to order a messy reality but an interpretive sociolinguistic game of high stakes. It’s a startling new way to write history within fiction. The novel from its start becomes polyphonic or what one can call, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s term, 'heteroglossic'—a linguistic theater with a multisided clash of voices. Readers find themselves caught up in a drama of heteroglossia that propels not only the plot but the entire historical resurrection that Manzoni attempts ... Michael F. Moore’s new version strikes me as remarkable, extraordinarily well pitched, finding the right levels of colloquialism and eloquence. Moore preserves the heteroglossia of the novel, its rich impasto of spoken and written styles whose incompatibility is one of its deep subjects. And he manages to catch Manzoni’s narrative voice, which is not easy to characterize: a confluence of an ironic worldly wisdom, a Jansenist pessimism, an immense pity for the follies of mankind, a respect for the peasant and the laborer, and contempt for those who have power and turn it to bad ends.
... important ... The novel shares the inviting characteristics of nation-defining epics by Scott, Dumas and Tolstoy: a taste for romance and adventure, an expansive interest in all strata of society, an ability to weave personal dramas into consequential historical events, and a focus on individual and collective moral improvement. It feels strange to have had a bona fide canonical classic hiding in plain sight for all these years. But with Mr. Moore’s vigorous and companionable translation, the book is now here for everyone to see ... Historical sweep is only part of the novel’s national significance. The rest lies with its role in consolidating a modern Italian language that would be crucial to unifying the country.
... emerges in the new translation as a work that anyone who cares about nineteenth-century fiction should want to read. It has the great events—war, famine, plague—and the record of their impact on humble people. It has the sentimentality: demure maidens and brave lads and black-hearted villains. It has passages of lyrical description and passages where the specificity of detail verges on the sociological. It has the prolixity, annoying to some, comforting to others. In other words, it is an exemplary historical novel ... Part of the pleasure of reading “The Betrothed” comes simply from its romanticism, its sweep and danger and excitement: great, gloomy castles jutting over perilous abysses, pious maidens being abducted by unrepentant villains, murderous nuns ... was the product of two decades of work, and it feels like it. Almost everything in the world seems to have been stuffed into it ... Its weakest component is its plot, or the plot’s organization. A lot of its psychology isn’t too strong, either. Under the influence of early-twentieth-century commentators such as Henry James and E. M. Forster, we, too, may believe that those things are the most important elements of a novel. The Betrothed, however true to its time, is closer to an opera, crammed with solos, duets, choruses, and lyric passages that, from what we can tell, are there more for art’s sake than for the sake of anything else.