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The Crowd and Manzoni’s Conception of Cultural Unification


Not only is Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi considered to be one of the greatest books in the history of Italian Literature, it could also be said to be the work which most contributed to the rise of Italian nationalism leading to unification. Manzoni’s role in forging an Italian national conscious is undeniable, his socio-political ideas transmitted through the novel having produced historically significant ideological codes. Critics have since scoured the pages of Manzoni’s writings in attempt to determine the ideological biases underlying the novel’s conception. Of these biases or determinants, the one that has received the most attention, ever since Antonio Gramsci’s comments on I Promessi Sposi, regards Manzoni’s “aristocratic” attitude towards the lower classes. What Manzoni describes as an animalesque mob is not strictly synonymous with members of the lower classes, but with crowds in general. His irascible, unpredictable, and irrational Milanese masses demonstrate his profound understanding of mass psychology and exemplify the key characteristics of crowds as defined in Gustave Le Bon’s book, The Crowd. Comparing this self-proclaimed scientific work with Manzoni’s literary work, my paper analyzes the episodes in I Promessi Sposi in which the Milanese (which Manzoni had previously established to be “buoni figliuoli, nominati per la bontà in tutto il mondo”) suddenly “imbestialì”[1], in order to thereby determine how Manzoni’s ideas regarding crowds informed his conception of unification.

[1] Alessandro Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi, ed. Isabella Gherarducci and Enrico Ghidetti, (Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1990), 278.

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