Chances are you’ve not heard of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and that’s because he only ever published one novel: The Leopard (Il Gattopardo). It was released posthumously after the Italian writer died in 1957, this following the author’s life which featured a propensity for solitude whilst being forced into surviving World Wars and other mayhem.
Written in the mid-1950s, The Leopard was rejected by several publishers (standard for any writer – even the likes of George Orwell faced a mammoth struggle to reach publication), but after a friend sent the manuscript through to another Italian writer it was proffered to the Feltrinelli publishing house. The result? A 1958 publication and numerous awards for the historical novel. Duly deserved, too. It’s brilliant.
Other than Italo Calvino, we’re not particularly up on our canonical Italian literature. After this one we’ll certainly be taking a closer look, as The Leopard is an excellent piece of work. A historical novel, it’s set in the spring of 1860 – the Prince of Salina is Fabrizio, a charismatic dude who rules masses of land in a rather plush, aristocratic manner.
His status and surroundings are, however, threatened by the landing of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Sicily. Before we continue with the synopsis analysis, let’s state this gentleman was a very real war general and politician who lived between 1807 and 1882; Garibaldi instigated numerous military campaigns which brought about a unified Italy thanks to “The Thousand” – a mighty war force if ever there was one.
In The Leopard, the arrival of Garibaldi and his revolutionary ways signals the start of a new era for Italy. We’ve had mass social upheavals before, of course, such as the French and Russian Revolutions, respectively, but the societal change here is told beautifully and with real eloquence.
At the centre of the narrative we have Prince Fabrizio who, despite being a spoilt womaniser, is no imbecile and realises he is powerless to prevent the inevitable downfall of his family. Whilst arrogant and swaggering in the pomposity of his decadent surroundings, he is soon utterly useless in the face of Garibaldi’s rampaging desire to modernise Italy. It is this decline which makes the novel such a powerful piece of writing.
The real bugger with The Leopard is it’s the only thing Tomasi di Lampedusa ever had published. It’s widely considered a masterpiece. It’s such a fine piece of work you’d wish the author, who began writing it when he was in his 50s, had gotten a move on a touch earlier so he could write other works.
Sadly, he died of lung cancer before he saw his work published. It’s since had a film adaptation along with much praise heaped upon it, but in part it stands as a mere hint at a body of work which the man could have achieved. However, it’s also simply an incredible book. Purchase and add it to your library post haste!
It features a tremendous prose style, wit, and charm. Simultaneously, it stands as a metaphor for how new eras in human history bring about sweeping change, for which we can nod our heads knowingly right here in 2016 as liberal attitudes shape the world increasingly towards a brighter future. Hopefully.