Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of The Leopard, one of the most poignant and enduringly popular novels of the 20th century, left only a few other pieces of fiction when he died in 1957 at the age of 60. A new book, published by Alma Classics in a new translation by Stephen Parkin, collects Lampedusa’s extant shorter fiction and provides a glimpse into the writer’s workshop and the background to the composition of his masterpiece. It also includes the previously unpublished fragment “The Turret”, which we reproduce here.
Childhood Memories and Other Stories is published by Alma Classics at £14.99
And then there was Torretta. As much as Santa Margherita was loved, Torretta was detested. It has always symbolized and accompanied illness and death, and for me continues to do so.
Torretta is a village around 20 kilometres outside Palermo, inland from the coast and about 500 metres above sea level. Its lofty position gave it the reputation as a cool and healthy spot; in reality the place, hemmed in by a narrow valley, overlooked by steep and barren mountains on every side, and devoid of sewers, running water, a postal service and electricity, is one of the least healthy places on earth. Whenever any members of my family fell sick and were sent to Torretta to “recover”, they wasted away, grew melancholy and within three months died. The local population were sullen, dirty, uncouth, and lived like rats among those sordid alleyways.
Our house was the “baronial residence” of the village, and as such was located on the main square – just as in Santa Margherita, but with a world of difference. There the square was spacious, tree -lined and sunny, and all the houses surrounding it were in at least decent condition; in Torretta it was narrow, dark and closed in, its cobblestones were always damp and adorned by the golden excrement deposited by the local mules. In the middle of it, there was an ugly baroque fountain with three wretchedly small spouts from which the only fresh water available in the village spewed forth; as a result it was surrounded day and night by a throng of women and boys holding their pitchers, or quartare, in their hands, who, with a typically Sicilian scorn for any kind of order or waiting in line, created all sorts of scenes by shouting, jostling, trampling and threatening each other.
Our house was not small – five balconies proudly looked on to the piazza – but it seemed tiny compared to the one in Santa Margherita. It was unfortunate that the facade had not been painted in the usual cheerful Sicilian colours of white and yellow, but was in white with the window and balcony frames done in a darkish grey, more like a faded black, which gave the whole building the look of a tomb belonging to some noble family, displeasing precisely because it awoke foreboding.
Because of the ceaseless shouting and continuous commotion round the fountain, we lived in the rooms at the back of the house, which opened on to a terrace overlooking the valley, one of those bleak Sicilian valleys, bare and discordant, which always let you glimpse in an opening right at the end of them a tiny strip of bright-blue sea. On that side of the house, the air would have been good and complete calm would have reigned had it not been for the fact that about 10 metres below the level of the terrace there was a large tank to which the women of Torretta, carrying their chamber pots, or cantari, on their shoulders, came the whole day long to empty out the excess contents of their cesspits, so that it was impossible to escape the smell of excrement in Torretta, whichever part of the house we were in.
Surrounded by these all-enveloping effluvial smells, the house in Torretta was entered via a large staircase consisting of two flights of steps which led to an entrance hall ….”
Images from Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi’s Lampedusa: A Biography Through Images, Alma Classics, published in November