Alessandro Manzoni

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Alessandro Manzoni

Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Manzoni (Milan, March 7, 1785 – Milan, May 22, 1873) was an Italian poet and narrator.

The historical novel Los novios (I promessi sposi) is his best known work; even today it is considered a basic reference in Italian literature. Assuming that the Florentine language was more cultured and characteristic of Italy than the Lombard language of the author, he went to live in Florence to learn it well and said that he had to go “to clarify the clothes to the Arno”, that is, he rewrote the work in Italian from Florence.

Alessandro Manzoni’s Biography

After the separation of his parents (his mother from 1792 lives with the cult and rich Carlo Imbonati, first in England, and then in France), Alessandro Manzoni between 1790 and 1803 is educated in religious schools, first with the Somascan parents and later with the barnabites. In spite of not being able to support that corseted education, of which he denounced even disciplinary limitations, and in spite of being considered a lazy student, he obtains with these studies a good classical training and good literary taste. With fifteen years develops a sincere passion for poetry and writes two meritorious sonnets. His maternal grandfather taught him to draw rigorous and universal conclusions from the observation of reality.

The young Manzoni lives between 1803 and 1805 with the old Don Pietro, devotes much of his time to women and gambling, but nevertheless manages to move within the Enlightenment environment of the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie of Milan. The neoclassical tendency of the time inspires him the first poetic experiences, created under the influence of Vincenzo Monti, literary idol of the moment. But beyond these, Manzoni leans towards Giuseppe Parini, spokesman of the illuminist ideas and the demands of moral rearmament of society. To this period correspond the triumph of freedom (Il trionfo della libertà), Adda, The four sermons (I quattro sermoni) in which the influence of Monti and Parini is seen, but also the echoes of Virgil and Horace. p>

In 1805 he meets in Auteuil, with his mother, with whom he spends two years, while participating in the literary circle of those baptized by Napoleon as “ideologues”, a second generation of the Enlightenment formed among others by the Count of Volney, Dominique Joseph Garat, Destutt de Tracy and Claude Fauriel and who had a certain boom at the beginning of the 19th century, among whom he had many friends, especially Fauriel (1772-1844), with whom he learned theories of Voltaire. Alessandro is imbued with French culture, classic in what is art, but skeptical and sensualist in philosophy and attends the evolution of rationalism towards romantic positions. This meeting with Fauriel, maker of romantic doctrines, is fundamental. Manzoni will maintain a lasting friendship with him. Thanks to him, Manzoni comes into contact with the German romantic aesthetic, even before Madame de Staël diffuses it in Italy.

Manzoni is situated thereafter on the path of romantic realism; however, he will never accept the conviction of both romanticism and his friend Fauriel that poetry must be the naive expression of the soul, and will never renounce, therefore, the intellectual domination of feeling or a controlled formal expression, characteristic of all Italian romanticism.

Between 1806 and 1807, when he was in Auteuil, he appeared for the first time in public as a poet, with two works. The first one was called Urania, and it was classic style. Later, he himself would become the main detractor of this style. In 1809, after the publication of Urania, Manzoni declared that he would never write verses like these, joining in that way the romantic poetry, which said that poetry should not be used for a cultured and refined elite, but should be of interest general and interpret the aspirations and ideas of readers. The other work that he presented at Auteuil, on the other hand, was an elegy in free verse, about the death of Count Carlo Imbonati, from whom he inherited, through his mother, a considerable patrimony, which included the house of Brusuglio, who from that moment it became his principal residence.

In 1810, Manzoni, who was already anticlerical in reaction to the education he had received, and more indifferent than agnostic or atheist in regard to the religious question, comes back to approach the Church. In 1808, in Milan, the writer had married the Calvinist Henriette Blondel, daughter of a Geneva banker, in a marriage that was happy. Back in Paris, contact with the priest Eustachio Degola, Genoese, Jansenist led both spouses to abjure in the case of Henriette of Calvinism and in the case of Manzoni to a return to Catholic religious practice (1810).

This reconciliation with Catholicism is the result of long meditations on the part of the writer; his alignment in the strictest orthodoxy (that is, in the requirement to strictly adhere to the dictates of the Church), shows the Jansenist influences, which lead him to a severe interpretation of Catholic religion and morality. The return to faith was for Manzoni the logical and direct consequence of the dissolution, in the first years of the nineteenth century, of the myth of reason, conceived as a perennially valid and true source of judgment, with which it was necessary to establish a new and sure foundation for morality.

This intellectual energy that followed its reconversion can be seen in its sacred Hymns (Inni sacri), a series of religious verses, and a treatise on Catholic morality, with the intention of compensating for its previous indifference.

In 1818 he was forced to sell the inherited patrimony, due to financial setbacks due to a dishonest manager. In the way he behaved with the peasants who had contracted strong debts with him, he could see the generosity that characterized him. He not only forgave all the debts, but he gave them the total of the corn crop.

Lithograph by Alessandro Manzoni.

In 1819 Manzoni published his first tragedy, El Conde de Carmañola (Il Conte di Carmagnola). This work, by valiantly violating all the classical conventions, provoked a lively polemic. An article published in a major literary magazine criticized him harshly, and it was precisely Goethe who replied defending it.

The death of Napoleon in 1821 inspired Manzoni with the remarkable lyric composition El cinco de mayo (Il cinque maggio). The political events of that year, together with the imprisonment of many of his friends, made a dent in Manzoni, and the work he carried out in that period was mainly inspired by historical studies, in which he sought a distraction, after retiring to Brusuglio . In the same year, he wrote March 1821, an ode about the insurrection against the Austrians.

Meanwhile, he began to give shape to his novel Fermo e Lucia, the first version of Los novios (I promessi sposi), which he completed in September 1822. After the revision made by his friends, between 1825 and 1827, it was published at the rate of one volume per year. This work definitively consecrated Manzoni.

Also in 1822, Manzoni published his second Adelchi tragedy, which deals with the overthrow by Charlemagne of the Longobard domination in Italy, and which contains many veiled allusions to the Austrian occupation.

Next, Manzoni laboriously reworked The Bride and Groom using Italian in its Tuscan form, and in 1840 he published this rewrite, together with the work The History of the Infamous Column (La storia della colonna infamous), which takes up and develops the subject of the ungidores and the plague, which had already had a relevant part in his previous novel. He also wrote a short treatise on the Italian language.

The last years of Manzoni’s life were marked by misfortunes. After the death of his wife in 1833, several of his sons followed, including his first-born Giulia, wife of Massimo D’Azeglio, and his mother’s. In 1837 he married in second nuptials with Teresa Borri, widow of Count Stampa. Manzoni also survived this second wife. Only two of the nine children he had between the two marriages survived him.

The death of the eldest of men, Pier Luigi, on April 28, 1873, was the coup de grace. He fell ill immediately and died of a meningitis on May 22. There was a massive participation in the solemn funeral that took place in Milan, and he was attended by the highest personalities of the State. In 1874 Giuseppe Verdi composed the Requiem Mass, on the anniversary of his death, to honor his memory.

Cesare Cantù (1885), Angelo de Gubernatis (1879) and Arturo Graf (1898) wrote the first biographies of Manzoni. Some of Manzoni’s letters were published by Giovanni Sforza in 1882. In the twentieth century, he highlighted the reconstruction, made with family letters, of Natalia Ginzburg: The Manzoni family.

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