The book opens with an introduction by John Jeffries Martin on Alessandro Manzoni and his great novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed). Martin stresses Manzoni’s brilliance as a novelist and a historian – both his sophisticated use of sources and his subtle blending of history and fiction in what is one of Europe’s most powerful works of historical writing. Claudio Povolo’s book then examines the surprising coincidences between Manzoni’s great novel and a trial held between 1605-07 by order of an important Venetian magistracy for a series of violent acts and rapes committed against the population of a small village in the Veneto. As Povolo shows, the protagonists and the events found in the records of the trial follow the same narrative structure as the novel. These coincidences lead to the hypothesis that Manzoni must have been able to consult the records of this criminal trial, which along with many other documents had been transferred to the great archive of the Venetian Frari after the fall of the Serenissima. The comparison of the novel with the trial is illuminating, as it allows us to grasp the complex interrelations between history and narrative, and among reality, verisimilitude, and imagination. In the afterward the author takes into consideration other possible interpretations, but ultimately the initial thesis and the arguments brought forward to support it are, beyond any reasonable doubt, more convincing than the other hypotheses and explanations formulated up to now by literary critics.
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