The Leopard

leopard

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 the leopard filmhidden 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.

 

the leopard

11 thoughts on “The Leopard

  1. I read this a few years ago and after a slow start I ended up enjoying it more than I’d expected. I did wish I knew more about Sicilian history, though, as I’m sure I didn’t fully understand or appreciate it all.

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    1. I agree it did get better, the Prince’s death and the final part with the elderly sisters I enjoyed the most, but it seemed like a series of vignettes. Maybe a historical tour of Sicily is on the cards!

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  2. It’s so interesting to see your responses to this book, particularly as it’s held up as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. I tried to read it last year but couldn’t get into it at the time, in spite of the undoubted quality of the writing. Maybe I’ll try again at some point, whenever the mood takes me. In the meantime, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not only reader with reservations about it.

    (PS Lampedusa’s short story, The Professor and the Siren, is a wonderful thing, so beautiful and beguiling. Definitely worth a look if you haven’t read it already.)

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    1. I haven’t read the short story and will do, I feel as if I need to compensate for my reaction to The Leopard! The second half is much better and the more I think about it the better it seems to get oddly.

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  3. Who doesn’t love a squelching parfait? I hope you do enjoy it, I’m looking forward to seeing what you think. There were bits I thought were terrific. . .

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  4. Your extracts do entice me. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and that food section made me drool. It looks, from the other comments that you are not alone, so perhaps I’ll resist the lure, for now. It’s not actually on my shelf, though it has been on my radar for some time. Nice review.

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