Fabrizio, the youngest son of the Marquis of Valserra del Dongo, spends his childhood in the family castle of Griante built in the 15th century over the beautiful Lake Como. He has two sisters and an older brother, in everything surprisingly similar to his father. The marquis is rich, but stingy, his wife and daughters live almost in poverty. Contrary to the will of the marquis, his sister Gina, one of the most beautiful women in Italy, marries an impoverished nobleman Count Pietranera, a participant in the Napoleonic campaigns. After the death of the Count in a duel, the Countess comes to Grianta. Fabrizio grew up before her eyes. The seventeen-year-old boy is very handsome – tall, slender, and cheerful smile makes him irresistible. He has been fascinated by Napoleon since childhood and, having learned about the emperor’s landing in the bay of Juan, secretly, under an alien name, goes to France to fight in the Napoleonic army.
In the first French town, the appearance of Fabrizio and his accent seem suspicious and he is arrested. On the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, the wife of the jailer helps him escape. He gets on the battlefield, but in the confusion of the battle neither Marshal Ney, nor the Emperor himself recognizes. The girl declares to him that the battle is lost and advises him to return home. He follows her advice. In Geneva, Gina’s servant is waiting for him. He reports that the elder brother reported to
Mother and Countess Pietranera take Fabrice to Milan. There they hope to find high patrons for him. But the case is given a move, the denunciation sent to Vienna, and Fabrizio is threatened with imprisonment in the castle of Spielberg – the most terrible prison in Europe. He is forced to go into voluntary exile.
Gina remains in Milan. Once in the Opera, she is introduced to Count Mosca della Rovere Soredzana – the Minister of War, the Minister of Police and Finance of the famous Prince of Parma Ranunci Ernest IV. Although the count is not young, but rather handsome, smart, witty and not arrogant. He causes a strong interest in Gina, and he falls in love with her without a memory. Unfortunately, he is not divorced from his wife, but for the sake of Gina is ready to resign and live where she wants. However, there is one more plan: the old Duke of Sanseverina dreams of the order ribbon, a fictitious marriage with the duke, to whom Mosca promises the order, will allow Gina to live in Parma and be represented to the court.
Soon the Duchess of Sanseverina amazes the Parma court with its beauty, affability and clarity of mind. Her house is the nicest in the city.
At the Parma court there are two constantly warring parties. The ruling party of the extreme royalists is headed by Count Mosca, and the opposition party of liberals is the rich man and intriguer Marquisa Raversi. The prince himself, since he became an unlimited monarch, is in constant fear. And having executed at the instigation of the chief fiscal officer Rassi two liberals, he just went crazy. The enormous influence of Count Mosca is due to the fact that thanks to his diplomatic dexterity, the prince does not have to blush for his cowardice, unworthy of a man, Rassi is staying in favorites only because he “constantly protects the prince” and constantly searches for and finds conspirators. As soon as he observes that the prince’s fears are weakening, he hastily reveals some new chimerical plot, the participants of which awaits the Parma fortress, known all over Italy.
The Duchess likes her new life, she feels a tender affection for the Count, the courtier of her amuses. But the fate of Fabrizio does not give her rest. Earl believes that the military career, which seeks Fabrizio, is impossible for a young man who fought in the armies of Napoleon. But he promises to eventually make him Archbishop of Parma, if he wants to become a prelate.
The Duchess, with the consent of Fabrizio, sends him to study theology at the Neapolitan Spiritual Academy.
In Naples Fabrizio, who does not lead the lenten life of a seminarian, acquires the reputation of a diligent young man, but somewhat windy. He is very handsome, in his appearance appeared some special charm. Of course, he enjoys success with women, but none of his mistresses play any role in his life.
After three years Fabrizio stands the exams, gets the right to be called “Monsignor” and, finally, goes to Parma.
The Duchess is happy, Fabrizio lives in the Sanseverin Palace and both of them are happy as children. But gradually the soul of Fabrizio is seized with anxiety. He discerns the inclination that the duchess feeds him. But he is sure that he is not capable of serious love, never had a woman in his life, a meeting with which would be more pleasant to him than a walk on a thoroughbred horse. Fabrice understands that, having allowed himself affinity with the duchess, he will surely lose his only friend. Saying to her “I love you,” he will lie, because he does not know what love is.
Somehow, walking around the city and absorbed in these thoughts, Fabrizio enters the theater and sees there a charming actress, who also carries his name. Her name is Marietta Walserra. The girl falls in love with Fabrizio, but in the theater she has a patron, actor Giletti. Once he was a Napoleonic soldier, he is brave, strong and threatens to kill Monsignor. Accidentally meeting Fabrice outside the city, Giletti attacks him and strikes him several times with a sword. Defensively, Fabrizio kills the villain. Now he can not return to Parma. He is lucky, he meets Ludovic, the former coachman of the Duchess, who helps him escape. Fabrizio moves from town to town and finally stops in Bologna. Here he meets Marietta and instantly forgets all his sorrows. He does not even suspect what’s going on in Parma.
And in Parma, the question is seriously discussed: will the death of the comedian Giletti cause the fall of the right ministry and its head, Count Mosca.
Prince, wishing to humiliate the duchess, who behaves too independently, orders Rassi to start a lawsuit against Fabrizio Valserra del Dongo. If Fabrice is convicted, he is threatened with execution or penal servitude.
Upon learning of the forthcoming verdict in absentia, the duchess decides to take an extreme step. She puts on a traveling suit and goes to the palace. The prince does not doubt that she will come. He is waiting for this proud beauty in tears to beg him for leniency. But the prince is wrong. Never had he seen the duchess so easy, kind, lively. She came to say goodbye and thanked for the goodwill the prince had given her for five years. The prince is amazed and humiliated. He is afraid that, having left Parma, this witty woman will tell about dishonest judges and night fears of her ruler everywhere. He must stop the duchess. And he agrees to sign the document dictated by her, in which he promises not to confirm the verdict made by Fabrizio.
Marquisa Raversi arranges a trap factory, appointing him a date on behalf of the duchess in a place near Parma. Fabricio does not have time to enter the Parma Kingdom, how he is seized and shackled to Parma fortress in shackles.
The commandant of the fortress, General Fabio Conti, who belongs to the clique of Marquisa Raversi, accepts a new prisoner. When Fabrice is taken to prison, he meets the daughter of General Clelia Conti in the courtyard of the fortress. The charm of her face, shining with pure charm, amazes the factory. Climbing into his cell, he thinks only of her.
The factory chamber is located in the tower of Farnese just in front of the commandant’s palace. Looking out the window, the factory sees an aviary with bird cages. In the afternoon Clelia comes to feed his pets. She involuntarily raises her eyes to the window of Fabrice and the looks of the young people meet. Clelia is beautiful with extraordinary, rare beauty. But she is shy, shy and very pious.
The window of Fabrizio’s chamber is covered with wooden shutters, so that the prisoner can only see the sky. But he manages to cut a kind of window in the shutter, and communication with Clelia becomes the main joy of his life.
They speak with the help of the alphabet, Fabrizio draws letters with charcoal in the palm of your hand. He writes long letters in which he tells Clelia of his love and, with the onset of darkness, takes them down on a rope.
For three months, which he holds in prison, having no connection with the outside world, he has grown pale and pale, but he has never felt so happy.
Clelia is tormented by remorse, she understands that, by helping the factory, betrays his father. But it must save the factory, whose lives are constantly threatened.
The Prince tells Rassi that while he is still alive, he will not feel like a sovereign ruler. He can not drive the Duchess out of Parma, but it is unbearable for him to see her at the court-it seems to him that this woman is challenging him. Fabrice must die.
The duchess’s hatred of the prince is unlimited, but her revenge can only be entrusted to one person. A disgraced poet, an ardent Republican Ferrante Palla is ready to fulfill her will. He is secretly in love with the duchess and he has his scores with the monarch.
Knowing from Count Mosca, what fate awaits Fabrice, the duchess prepares to escape. She manages to send him the plan of the fortress and the rope. But Gina does not suspect that the prisoner does not strive at all – the life without Clelia would be an intolerable torment for him.
Meanwhile, the canon of the prison church, Don Cesare, seeks for Fabricio permission for a daily walk. Fabrice begs Clelia to come to the prison chapel. Lovers meet, but Clelia does not want to listen to love confessions. She orders Fabrice to flee – every moment he spends in the fortress can cost him his life. Clelia gives a vow to Madonna: if Fabrice manages to escape, she will never see him again, she will submit to the will of her father and will marry at his choice.
The escape succeeds, Fabrizio descends from a dizzy height and already loses consciousness. The Duchess takes him to Switzerland, they secretly live in Lugano. But Fabrice does not share the joy of Gina. And she herself does not recognize in this depressed, submerged man his cheerful and frivolous nephew. She realizes that the reason for his constant sadness is separation from Clelia. The Duchess no longer loves Fabrice, as she had loved before, but this guess hurts her.
In Lugano comes servant Count Mosca with the news: the prince suddenly died, and in Parma the uprising, which is headed by Ferrante Palla.
The count suppresses the uprising and the son of the late prince, the young Ernest V., enters the throne. Now the fugitives can return to Parma.
But the verdict is not canceled. Fabrice is waiting for a judicial review of the case, but for now he should be in prison. Without waiting for an official order, he voluntarily returns to the fortress, to his former cell. It’s impossible to describe the horror of Clelia when she sees Fabrice again in the camera window. Her father considers Fabrizio’s flight a personal insult and swears that this time he will not let him live. General Conti does not hide his intentions from Clelia. She knows that the lunch that Fabrizio is carrying is poisoned. Pushing away the jailers, she runs into his cell and overturns the table, which already has lunch. At this moment Clelia is so beautiful that Fabrizio can not fight with himself. He does not meet resistance. After the cancellation of the sentence, Fabrizio becomes the chief vicar of the Parma archbishop Landriani, and after his death he himself receives the rank of archbishop. His sermons are very touching and enjoy great success. But he is deeply unhappy. Clelia observes her vow. Obeying the will of her father, she marries the Marquis of Crescenzi, the richest man in Parma, but does not cease to love Fabrice. Her only refuge is the hope of Madonna’s help.
Fabrizio is in despair. He has changed a lot, he has become emaciated, his eyes on the emaciated face seem huge. Clelia understands how cruelly she acts. She allows Fabrice to secretly come to her, but she should not see it. Therefore, all their meetings occur in complete darkness. This lasts for three years. During this time, Clelia had a son, a small Sandrino. Fabrizio loves the child and wants him to live with him. But officially the father of the boy is the Marquis of Crescenzi. Therefore, the child must be kidnapped, and then dissolve the rumor of his death. This plan succeeds, but the baby soon dies. After him, without suffering loss, Clelia also dies. Fabrizio is close to suicide. He renounces the rank of Archbishop and retires to the Parma Monastery.
The Duchess of Sanseverina marries Count Mosca and leaves Parma forever. All external circumstances are happening for her happily, but when, after spending only a year in a monastery, Fabrizio, who idolized her, dies, she was able to endure it for a very short time.