Spiros's Reviews > The Leopard

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
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Sep 19, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: new, chasingmytail, italy, cinerelated, staffpicks
Read in September, 2007

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change" is the keynote paradox propounded by Tancredi Falconeri to his uncle, Prince Fabrizio Salina, as the young impoverished noble goes to join the Garibaldini, to fight for an independent Sicily and a unified Italy. Don Fabrizio is taken aback; he after all lives his life on a Copernican paradigm, with himself at the center of the universe. Tancredi is representative of a Darwinian world, with his ability to adapt to circumstances, such that we modern readers, unlike the Prince, are occasioned no surprise when he subsequently renounces the sans culottes for a position of power under the new regime. Tancredi rises to ever greater heights, while the Prince is left in melancholy contemplation of the passing of an old order which he knows was unworthy of mourning.
This is an absolutely wonderful, elegiacal work, leavened with moments of great humor, such as Angelica's conquest of the Salina palazzo in Donnafugata, by my reckoning one of the most exuberant passages in all of literature. Luchino Visconti did a brilliant job in his film adaptation, helped in no small part by the three principals in his cast: Burt Lancaster as the Prince, assuming an autocratic bearing which he would channel again some twenty years later as Mr. Happer, the astronomically obsessed oil tycoon in LOCAL HERO; Alain Delon, striking the perfect ironical notes as Tancredi; and Claudia Cardinale, resplendently cast as Angelica...those eyes, those lips, those (ahem)! An argument could be made that Angelica represents the New Italy, the synthesis of the Old Order represented by Don Fabrizio and the bumptious vulgarity of her father, Don Calogero, the "New Man". Or, to use a geological metaphor, she is the mountain range thrust up by the collision of tectonic plates, the Italy of the Prince and the Italy of Don Calogero. And if that metaphor seems to be informed by Miss Cardinale's physique, then so be it.
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