All you need to know about the books you meant to read; THE LEOPARD(1958) by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Saturday 17 August 1996
Plot: Prince Fabrizio is the leopard, a self-absorbed aristocrat. In middle-age, facing the threat of Garibaldi and the Italian unification movement, he feels lapped in loneliness and treats his relatives with quiet disdain. The exception is Tancredi, his nephew. As the Bourbon king is deposed, Fabrizio knows that the old life is doomed. He encourages Tancredi to marry Angelica Sedara, daughter of a rich peasant. Concetta, Fabrizio's daughter, is mortified, for she loves Tancredi with ferocious pride. Marriage arrangements are completed and to celebrate the betrothal, there is a ball. As the Prince dances with Angelica, there are intimations of mortality. Twenty years later he has a stroke and dies in an hotel. Another 30 years pass. Concetta, a spinster, guards the palace. Angelica arrives and Concetta wonders whether she might have married Tancredi after all. Tancredi has been buried some time: Concetta knows that the truth is buried with him.
Theme: Fabrizio watches "the ruin of his own class without ever making any move towards saving it." His decadence is a reflection of Sicily's. The illusions of political improvement are pitched against the certainty that happiness is transitory.
Style: Combining Count Tolstoy's bemused hauteur with Proust's sense of universal loss, the prose is archaic, aloof and voluptuous.
Chief strengths: Fabrizio's quietism is subjected to irony. Lampedusa's belief that the modem world is trite and fussy parallels his exposure of the Prince as cruel and unthinking.
Chief weaknesses: The story is so episodic that the characters have little room for development.
What they thought of it then: Initially turned down for publication, the book subsequently enjoyed world-wide success.
What we think of it now: Falls into the minor classic bracket along with Le Grand Meaulnes, Catcher in the Rye and The Good Soldier.
Responsible for: Visconti's film (1963) which is a tour de force despite bizarre dubbing and the imaginative decision to cast Burt Lancaster as the Prince.
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