“When… he had learned to know Don Fabrizio better he discovered in him the softness and the inability to defend himself that were the characteristics of his pre-formed sheep-noble, but also an attractive force different in tone but equal in intensity to that of the young Falconeri; moreover a certain energy tending towards abstraction, a disposition to seek the way of life which would emerge from within himself and not be grasped from others; he would remain deeply impressed by this abstract energy, although it presented itself as direct and not as reducible to words, as is attempted here; however he noticed that much of this fascination sprang from good manners and realised how pleasing a well-educated man could be, because at heart he is nothing but someone who eliminates the always unpleasant manifestations of so much of the human condition and who exercises a sort of profitable altruism (a formula in which the efficacy of the adjective made him tolerate the uselessness of the noun).” [my translation]
My favourite Italian book (and one of my all-time favourite books) is The Name of the Rose (Il nome della rosa) by Umberto Eco. But since I had to choose another title this time, I chose the historical novel The Leopard.
The Leopard is Sicilian prince Don Fabrizio and it’s set mainly at the time of the Risorgimento which resulted in the unification – in a manner of speaking – of Italy in 1870. It was written as Lampedusa was dying, and is pervaded with a strong sense of ‘end of an era’. The Leopard is in fact a pussy cat, but has to accept that the aristocratic world he knew is moving on (in fact doomed, like the realm of the pre-Olympian Greek gods), and that those more in tune with the new Zeitgeist, like his dashing nephew Tancredo, will inherit the future. Lampedusa’s view of both that old aristocracy and of the rising nouveaux riches is equivocal but subtle. Lampedusa’s one great novel truly is a masterpiece. However I found it difficult to read (in Italian). Some of the sentences seem to go on forever and (like the example above) can be a bit convoluted. Some of the anachronisms (such as a mention of World War II and Einstein) I found somewhat jarring. But apart from this personal niggle, it’s an absolutely marvellous book and an unmissable highlight of Italian literature.
Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896 – 1957), Il gattopardo, Milano: Feltrinelli, 2012, ISBN 978-88-07-81028-2 (originally 1958)