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1.12.09

À mon chevet: I Promessi Sposi

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À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
Renzo fell in with this advice very readily; Lucia approved of it, and Agnese, proud of having given it, took the unfortunate birds out of the coop one by one, put their eight legs together as if she was making up a bouquet of flowers, wound a piece of string round them, tied it, and handed them over to Renzo. After an exchange of encouraging remarks he went out through the orchard, so as not to be seen by any children, who would be sure to run after him, shouting, "The bridegroom! the bridegroom!" So he cut across the fields (or, as they call them there, "the places") and went along by the bypaths, fuming as he thought over his misfortune, and brooding over what he was going to say to Doctor Quibble-weaver.

I leave the reader to imagine the kind of a journey which those poor birds must have had, tied and clamped together by the legs, with their heads hanging down, in the hands of a man gripped by so many strong emotions, who kept gesticulating at the thoughts rushing through his head. Sometimes he would stretch out his arm in rage, sometimes raise it in desperation, and sometimes brandish it threateningly in the air; giving them a series of fierce shocks all the time, and making those four dangling heads jump about; meanwhile they were trying to peck at each other, as too often happens among companions in misfortune.

-- Alessandro Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi, trans. Archibald Colquhoun, p. 34
This book has been on my reading list for a long time, often considered the most widely read novel written in Italian and by the celebrated writer Alessandro Manzoni, in whose memory Verdi wrote his Requiem Mass. The story belongs to the long tradition of Italian literature about everyday folks struggling with what is basically organized crime, in the form of a local crime lord who sends his thugs to threaten a parish priest from carrying out a marriage. In the scene quoted here, the bride-to-be's mother has sent the groom to ask the advice of a local celebrity, a lawyer with a fancy education, for whom the four capons are a gift. Dr. Quibble-weaver is not the man's actual name, but the nickname the locals use to refer to his normally inscrutable discourse.

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