It was a foreign critic, ironically, who grasped the insurmountable national challenge that alessandro Manzoni posed to himself and to Italy's future authors with his monumental novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed [1827, rev. ed. 1840]). Manzoni's basic theme, Georg Lukács writes, is “much less a given, concrete, historical crisis of national history” than it is “the tragedy of the Italian people as a whole” (70). This eternal plight—distilled into the story of the courtship and separation of two peasants in seventeenth-century Lombardy during plague, riots, and Spanish occupation—encompassed Italy's perpetual struggle against foreign rule, its lack of a unifying language and polity, and its reticent modernity, especially its tensions between religious tradition and secular progress. According to Lukács, the universality of the text combined with the abiding, unchanging nature of the problems it fictionalized essentially exhausted the genre of the historical novel that it introduced to Italy. Posterity has vindicated this assessment. Manzoni abandoned the genre soon after I promessi sposi to dedicate himself to historical writing proper, and his novel remains ensconced in the Italian public imaginary, just behind Dante's Commedia, as the towering, mythic work that helped occasion Italy's belated unification in 1861.