WorldWide Manzoni

An exhibition on the success of I Promessi Sposi around the world. An interview with Paola Italia

By Andrea Tarabbia

(Saronno, 1978), is a writer. He received a Ph.D. in Theory of Literature from the University of Bergamo – where he kept on working for some years as a researcher...

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Paola Italia, in conjunction with Mauro Novelli and the staff of Booksinitaly, is the curator of WorldWide Manzoni, an exhibition on the success of I promessi sposi around the world, which will open on Tuesday 15th November at 18:00 at Casa Manzoni in Milan. 


On 15th November, a very special exhibition will be inaugurated at Casa Manzoni in Milan, exploring the international success of the author’s work. Can you tell us how the exhibition is organised and where its inspiration comes from?
This is an extraordinary exhibition in terms of how it came about and developed. The idea of narrating the adventures of I Promessi Sposi in Europe and the wider world actually arose from a study by Mariarosa Bricchi, published in 2012 in the Einaudi Atlante della Letteratura Italiana. Taking this article as a starting point and widening the scope to exploit Casa Manzoni’s incredible literary legacy, Mauro Novelli and I, together with a group of students from La Sapienza university, set out to show – especially to young people – the extent to which the novel was admired and valued by the greatest European intellectuals of the age. The first version of the show – which took place at Casa Manzoni in January 2016 – documented the novel’s success in Europe and the USA; now, with the collaboration of our colleagues Elda Garetto and Clara Bulfoni at the Department of Mediation Sciences at the University of Milan and the Fondazione Arnoldo e Alberto Mondadori, we have widened the project’s scope to cover the fortunes of I Promessi Sposi worldwide, and thanks to the Copy in Italy project, it will travel all over the world via the Italian Cultural Institutes.

How will the exhibition reach out to young people, who are more stimulated by visual communication and more interested in reading online?
The WorldWide Manzoni exhibition is special for two reasons. First, because it arises from an educational project, and is therefore able to convey I Promessi Sposi to young people from a youthful point of view, giving the novel a new image by means of a fresh and “distanced” perspective; and secondly because, since the first version, the event has also been conceived as a virtual exhibition, thanks to the MOVIO software made available by the MIBACT (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism). The content of the exhibition is actually accessible online at, and can be viewed – in Italian or in English translation – from any smartphone, tablet or computer, as a digital guide that accompanies the visitor through the real-life show: one way of reaching young people anywhere in the world by the use of new technology.


Can Manzoni – who for us is the quintessential Italian writer – be defined as an author of world prominence? What was his influence on his contemporaries?
Until the seventeenth century, Italian literature was “European”, recognised and imitated all over Europe. And even into the mid-eighteenth century, the reputation of the Milan of the Verris and Beccaria, which gave rise to Manzoni’s novel, was Europe-wide. I Promessi Sposi, published in 1827, was the most read and translated Italian book of the era, and it had an impact on the great Italian novelists of the nineteenth century, such as Ippolito Nievo, and – as the exhibition testifies – on European novelists in general, from Mary Shelley to Goethe, Dickens to George Eliot. Its influence also went further afield, as shown by the book’s success in the USA and Russia. Moreover, the themes addressed in the novel – social inequality, every man’s responsibilities in the face of injustice, the importance of culture, seen as a quest for truth – are universal themes, which speak to readers around the world and make the novel truly relevant even today.

 Will you give us a preview of some interesting facts visitors will find in the exhibition?
The exhibition contains a wealth of singular stories, mostly linked to the reputation of Manzoni himself: an intellectual known throughout Europe, whom the great translators – Russians, for example, such as Žukovskij, tutor to the future tzar Alexander II – could not fail to visit on their European journeys. There are also fascinating anecdotes, like the “race” that happened in Germany between the first translators, encouraged by Goethe but unknown to each other; or the cutting from Spanish versions of the “political” passages referring to the military occupation and episodes concerning characters such as Don Abbondio or Gertrude, considered too “unorthodox”; or lastly the enormous success of recent versions in China, where Manzoni is considered “the greatest writer since Dante and Ariosto”.


Translated by Claire Davis

14 November 2016

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Partners Ministero degli Affari Esteri Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo Centro per il libro e la lettura AIE - Associazione Italiana Editori Fondazione Arnoldo e Alberto Mondadori Fondazione Cariplo
In collaboration with Comune di Milano Comune di Milano Comune di Milano IBF - International Book Forum Expo 2015
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