Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s THE LEOPARD (Il Gattopardo in the original Italian), about Sicily on the brink of the Risorgimento in 1860, is based on the life of the author’s maternal grandfather, Prince Fabrizio di Salina.
What is really wonderful about the novel is the luminous prose that comes through in the sensitive English translation of Archibald Colquhuon, and the amazing details that make it come alive. I loved the way in which we follow Prince Fabrizio through his dark palaces, glimpsing his daughters’ dresses billowing as they curtseyed to him. Or as we followed him on an erotic jaunt to Palermo, when he insists on being accompanied by his chaplain! (That was one of my favorite episodes of the novel).
And it is interesting that di Lampedusa chose to deal with such an earthquake of a movement as the Risorgimento at such a remove. There are no scenes where the redshirts storm the palace, or Fabrizio has a loud argument with his nephew or his new low-born relative does anything exceptionally vulgar. Everything is muted, and veiled by civility. But then, that is exactly what life was like in 1860s Europe.
And I think that is why E.M. Forster called it “a novel which happens to take place in history,” as opposed to “an historical novel.” Five stars.