New publication of Alessandro Manzoni’s literary letters

Manzoni was a central figure for Italy and Europe in the political, religious and philosophical debate of the nineteenth century. A reserved and bashful man, Manzoni tended towards a rational, lucid and suffered inner search. This is the portrait of Alessandro Manzoni that emerges from the new publication of the Literary Letters, promoted by the Centro Studi Studi Manzoniani. We spoke with Irene Gambacorti, a researcher at the Department of Humanities and Philosophy, who edited the work, together with Laura Diafani, a former research fellow at the University.

What is the meaning of this publication and its consistency?

It is a sort of privileged mirror, which returns essential pages of Italian and European culture of the nineteenth century through the space of seventy years, from Napoleon to Porta Pia. And it offers important epistolary dialogues for Manzoni’s artistic adventure: from Grossi to Tommaseo, Giusti and Capponi.

The volume — which is introduced by Gino Tellini, professor emeritus of Italian literature — is divided into two volumes and contains 772 letters exchanged between the writer and 91 correspondents — Italian and foreign writers, poets, scholars and linguists — from 1803 to 1873. Manzoni’s letters are 341, and 431 those of his correspondents.

What is new in this edition?

Through a careful survey of public and private archives (47 in total, of which 10 abroad), we recovered 153 unpublished letters, plus eight which were only partially published. Most of them were from his correspondents, but there are also seven new short letters by Manzoni which increase the known epistolary corpus of the writer.

We also found the autographs of 26 of Manzoni’s letters, plus one by Giuseppe Giusti, hitherto known only by copy or draft, and we tried to clarify some gray areas, placing in the appendix a number of unsent drafts, fragments of uncertain authenticity and probable fakes.

How did you work?

The edition intends first and foremost to present reliable texts from a philological point of view: each letter has been transcribed or double-checked against the autograph, if extant, and is accompanied by a critical apparatus highlighting variants and corrections, as well as extensive commentary notes.

The letters are in chronological order and allow us to follow through his dialogue with scholars, linguists, intellectuals, close friends or occasional interlocutors, the development of Manzoni’s interests and the intense work around his works: from the Adda idyll submitted to Vincenzo Monti by an eighteen-year-old Alessandro to the historical and linguistic studies of the octogenarian father of the country.

How does this publication fit within the national and European edition of the works promoted by the Centro Studi Studi Manzoniani?

Fifty years after publishing Manzoni’s letters edited by Cesare Arieti for the Mondadori Classics imprint, the new publication of Manzoni’s correspondence in the National Edition is finally presenting in its entirety the dialogue maintained by the writer with the interlocutors who have crossed or shared the his path of human and intellectual research. The volumes already published include those dedicated to the exchange of letters with Claude Fauriel and Antonio Rosmini; two volumes of family letters and a first volume of literary letters, in 2010, dedicated for the most part to Gaetano Cattaneo and to the German correspondents.

How is the character of the author reflected in the epistolary corpus? Is there a more intimate Manzoni?

The literary and linguistic interests dominate the correspondence of this author who is peculiarly reluctant to talk about himself, even in a style of writing like the epistolary one, typically a place of effusion of the ego (suffice it to think of Foscolo or Leopardi). Manzoni’s pages, which in their dialectic rigor often tend to resemble an essay proper (so much so that some letters will give origin to actual essays), are a mirror of his rational, lucid and painful inner search, that shows profound ethical roots and is moved by a strong tension toward knowledge. They tell us of his intellectual adventure, within a quiet and reserved life, apparently devoid of sensational events. But there is no lack, in his letter to friends, of playful and ironic skirmishes, and affectionate words.

Who did Manzoni correnspond with?

Reading the letters we come across a network of encounters, readings, exchanges that form the lively cultural fabric of the nineteenth century, with the contemporary political, religious and philosophical debate in the national and European sphere. We get to see his “Milanese” friends of the romantic group of the “Conciliatore” — first among them Tommaso Grossi and Luigi Rossari — and the “Florentines”, both by birth or choice (such as Gino Capponi and Niccolò Tommaseo), gathered around the Gabinetto Vieusseux and the “Antologia”, met during his famous Florentine stay of September 1827. The many French correspondents, especially in the area of liberal Catholicism, testify to the centrality of Manzoni’s role in the European culture of those years, and his participation in the most animated currents of thought. He is engaged in an intense and ongoing debate with linguists and lexicographers around the central problem of the national language, which, at the time, still found its central reference in the town of Florence. A large group of young writers and admirers seek frequent advice and approval from him, reflecting the public role soon reached by Manzoni.

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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy

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University of Florence

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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy

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