It’s 1860 and Fabrizio, Prince of Salina rules over thousands of acres, hundreds of people, his wife and seven children. But when Garibaldi lands in Sicily and is hailed a hero and liberator by the people, it is clear that the old way of life is changing.
Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa is writing about his great grandfather, by following the prince to his death in 1883 we get a glimpse of a Sicilian nobleman at a moment of crisis and the degeneration of his family until almost collapse in 1910.
He believes ‘the significance of a nobel family lies entirely in its traditions,’ and spends his days with his family following religious rituals, hunting and visiting his mistress. There are banquets and balls with wonderful descriptions of food:
‘Huge sorrel babas,Mont Blancs snowy with whipped cream, cakes speckled with white almonds and green pistachio nuts, hillocks of chocolate covered pastry,brown and rich as the top soil of a Catanian plain from which,in fact,through many a twist and turn they had come, pink ices, champagne ices, coffee ices, all parfaits and falling apart with a squelch at a knife cleft; a melody in major of crystallised cherries’
But can he accept the changes to social order that are coming? The rapid rise to fortune of Don Calogero Sedàra, a local man with a wife so unpresentable in public she is kept hidden away, is now as wealthy as the prince and is the mayor. ‘The rule of the Leopards and Lions’ will have their place taken by the ‘jackals and hyenas’.
This was a book that I didn’t even question putting on my Classics Club list it’s so well thought of. My copy had a quote on the back from L.P. Hartley ‘Perhaps the greatest novel of the century’. I kept wondering that I was missing something. As always with a book that follows a family’s fortunes there is a sense of nostalgia for their younger days when you see them older or dying, and the old prince was certainly more interesting than the arrogant playboy. He looks in the wardrobe mirror from his death bed and ‘recognised his own suit more than himself’. Fabulous!
Their were interesting parts, some beautiful descriptions and humour but I was expecting to be swept away and I wasn’t, the whole just didn’t hang together for me. I decided to watch the film in the hope that it might make me engage a bit more, but I’m afraid three hours of Burt Lancaster didn’t manage it either. Another time may be.