A new English translation of Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi sposi (The Betrothed) was published a few months ago. It is excellent, and I wrote on it for the City Journal here. I’ve been trying to convince my classical liberal friends to read Manzoni for a little while – with almost no success.

It may well be that people think that Manzoni’s book is mostly relevant to Italians, because of its role in developing the modern Italian language. In this case, people may be kept at bay by some scent of nationalism that they smell around Manzoni. Or it could be that people find the plot not very attractive. It is the story of two ordinary folks, Renzo and Lucia, who are supposed to get married but they cannot, because of the threats of a local nobleman, who has an eye for Lucia.

The choice of the characters is very important. For one thing, Manzoni is writing an historical novel which focuses on the way in which common people are dragged around by History: how they are paying for the big guys’ choices, their own mistakes, and how their interactions contribute to shaping events. For another, he is clearly choosing these people because he deems their life interesting, though different than the one of kings and queens.

This is but one of the many classical liberal elements in the book. Manzoni was no alien to classical liberal sensibilities himself. He knew the French ideologues and knew his economics (Smith, Say, Bastiat) very well. But more importantly, The Betrothed is just a piece of work and I hope many more English-speaking people (including some classical liberals) will discover it thanks to this new translation.