Hollywood Ending – 19th Century Italian Style

I have plenty of friends – particularly those outside the US – who bemoan the “Hollywood Ending.” Those improbably happy outcomes that seem to tie together the unlikely threads of even the sorriest stories. Apparently the term entered the language back in 1929 and has been a subject of ridicule ever since.

But I just finished reading a book that had Hollywood Ending written all over it – and it was neither recent nor American. The book was “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni. It was written in Italy back in the 1820s and set even earlier – in the 1620s. But despite its age and origin “I Promessi Sposi” is classic Hollywood all the way.

It’s the story of a young couple whose love can’t be denied. The story begins as their local priest is returning home. He’s due to conduct their wedding ceremony the following day. En route he’s accosted by two ruffians who tell him that a local noble – Don Rodrigo – wants the girl for himself and that he need s to put off the wedding.

This warning and the priest’s decision to heed it sets off a cascade of events. The young couple is helped or hindered by a wide range of characters – Brother Cristoforo, who does everything in his power to help; the Nun of Monza, who attempts to help but ultimately does them wrong; the Unnamed, who attempts to do wrong but provides great kindness.

Separated, the two young lovers face riots, arrest, famine, plague, kidnapping, vows to the Madonna and more over the course of two years. The meet again in what is essentially a refugee camp for plague victims (each having caught the disease but neither succumbing to it). They are reunited and are able to marry thanks to the death of the irksome local noble.

By the end of the novel every thread has been neatly tied into a bow. Each of the good characters has survived and thrived (save Brother Cristoforo who has met his end in the service of the sick and dying) and the bad have received their just desserts. The turns of events that get everyone from point-a to point-b are as unlikely as anything you’d ever see on the silver screen.

None of this isn’t to say “The Betrothed” isn’t a great story. I totally loved it and hope more people will read it. My point is only that the disdain for these types of stories is unwarranted. These stories – and the morals they contain – can be worthy, worthwhile and entertaining. Even though your summer reading may be through try to pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did.