di Lampedusa, Giuseppe: The Leopard
(researched by Pablo Urioste Talamas)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Giuseppe di Lampedusa. The Leopard. New York, New York: Pantheon Books Inc., 1960. 

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

First American edition is published in trade cloth binding; also published simultaneously in Canada.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

320 leaves, pp. [1-8] 9-10 [ 13-14] 15-61 [62-64] 65-107 [10-110] 111-156 [157-158] 159-215 [216-218] 219-242 [243-244] 245-273 [274-276] 277-292 [293-294] 295-319 [320]

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

Acknowledgement of princess Alessandra di Lampedusa for her work in translating the book, from the translator, Archibald Colquhoun. Brief introductory notes by Colquhoun on the Resorgimiento (Italian Unification), from the heroics of Garibaldi in Sicily to an abrupt end following his forces’ failure to capture the Papal States.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

Cover art by Enrico Arno. Otherwise, not illustrated. 

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

118R. Text is consistently well printed, the type slender but easily readable. Characters, words and lines comfortably spaced out. Margins slightly larger than usual but not atypical of the time.There are dents on the side of the pages and ocassional random pencil marks on the sides of the pages, which do not seem related to any form of study of the book. 

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

Grainy and thick paper. Mostly straight edges save for one or two missing corners, bent corners and indentations or scratches made throughout the side. Paper has yellowed with time. There are throughout random pencil made lines (e.g. p.125,173), and in pages 307-307 graphite smudges, perhaps thumbrints. Looks like perhaps an owner of the copy was taking notes separately while working through the novel. 

11 Description of binding(s)

Very deep redcloth binding throughout. On the cover, the same Lampedusa  family coat of arms illustrated on the cover is reproduced in black and metallic gold. On the spine, the name of the author is close to the top in metallic gold letters, followed by a black field with the title also in gold but bigger letters, adorned with gold wreaths; following that three motifs of grapevines are staggered one above the other; lastly, the publisher's name is written at the bottom in the same manner as the author's name. 

12 Transcription of title page

Recto of title page:

Giuseppe di Lampedusa| THE LEOPARD| Translated from the Italian by| Archibald Colquhoun| PANTHEON


Centered graphic of the Lampedusa family coat of arms roughly 4in.x 2.5in.


Verso of title page:


Original title: Il Gattopardo, published by Giangiacomo Fel-| trinelli Editore, Milano, Italy • © 1958 by Giangiacomo Feltri-|nelli Editore, Milan, Italy • © 1960 in the English translation, | Wm. Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., London, and Pantheon Books Inc., | New York, NY. • Library of Congress Catalogue Card No.: 60- | 6794 • The characters in this book are fictional • All rights re-| served, including the right to reproduce this book or portions | thereof, in any form • Simultaneously published in Canada by | McClelland & Stuart, Ltd. • Manufactured in the U.S.A

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

Manuscripts conserved by Lampedusa's heirs (The descendants of the author's nephew composer Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi) at the Palazzo Lanza Tomasi, Palermo (the site of Lampedusa's family home). "The building is in part a house-museum dedicated to the author. Manuscript holdings include the complete manuscript of The Leopard, the typescript refused by two publishers before being accepted by Feltrinelli after the author’s death, a draft of the fourth part of the novel, the manuscript of his Childhood Memories and three short stories, and his Lessons of English and French Literature." https://www.butera28.it/palazzo-lanza-tomasi-palermo/

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Book provenance from the collection of renowned Virginia poet Anne Spencer. No ex-libris present, nor signature nor personal dedication to Mrs. Spencer. This copy was consulted at the University of Virginia Harrison-Small Special Collections Library, call number PQ 4843 .053 G32. 

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Yes, although Pantheon was acquired in 1974 by Random House, The Leopard continues to be published under the Pantheon division and has since gone through subsequent editions. In 1991 a new edition was published, both hardcover and paperback; the cover of both contain a well-dressed gentleman, presumably the Prince, as opposed to the original cover with the Lampedusa coat of arms. This edition was published under the publisher or collection “Pantheon Modern Writers.”  In 2007 a new paperback was introduced, the current edition in print. The cover is simpler, in white with gold adornments (see image below). An alternative cover for the 2007 is a bright green field with more graphic looking adornment (also a crown) in bright yellow.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

30,000 by Pantheon according to Publisher Weekly 1960 Apr-June 1960, Vol. 177. 

100,000 between 1959-1960 in Italy. According to Leandro Castinelli in Perche Tanto Gattopardo.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

There are the major international editions of the work, namely the Feltrinelli editions (both the original 1959 and a 2002 commemorative edition), the British Harvill Press from 1960 as well as by The Folio Society in 2002, a subsequent 2007 Vintage Classics edition, and later American versions by publishers like Seignet NY (1961), Pocketbooks (1967) and Time Inc. (1966).

6 Last date in print?

Currently in print as 2018.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

3.2 million copies according to the New York Times in 2008. Most recent figure found.

1.6 million of the Italian version sold by August 1984 per Gregory Lucente's 1984 Scrivere o Fare...O altro: Social Commitments and Ideologies of Representation in the debates over Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo and Morante's La Storia. 

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

2.2 Million in 1992 according to Leandro Castellani's Perche Tanto Gattopardo in 1992.

3.2 million copies according to the New York Times in 2008. Most recent figure found.

IN ITALY (per Gregory Lucente):
465,000 copies in 1959
70,000 in 1975
25,000 in 1976



9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

So far only semblance of a paid advertisement was found on Publishers Weekly's Tips: Previews, Promotions, Sales; where a picture of the upcoming book was displayed followed by a brief but flattering conversation with the cover artist about the crest on the book’s jacket. Most mentions of the book deal with it exclusively in literary terms. Seems to have engendered popularity organically.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

The book was the May 1960 choice for the Book Of the Month Club.  It has been reviewed in magazines of popular circulation, amounting to indirect promotion. These include a review in Harper’s Bazaar in 1960, a review in The New Republic on the 20th of June 1960 by William Jay Smith,a short introduction in The Reporter in 1960 and a review in The New Yorker in 1966 by Edmund Wilson. Most recently, The New York Times wrote about it celebrating the novel's 50th anniversary. A History of Book Publishing in the United States by Tebbel cites over 31 critical sources about The Leopard in the references section. Alderman library holds over a dozen critical books about the novel and its author.

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

The Leopard was adapted into an eponymous major movie by Luchino Visconti in 1963, starring Burt Lancaster as the Prince of Salina, Alain Delon as Count Tancredi, and Claudia Cardinale as Angelica. The movie was a lavish production with large a cast and unique scenery. The Salina family palace is shot at the real summer residence of the Lampedusa’s in Santa Margherita di Belice. The film resulted in commercial success and It is considered a classic, Rotten Tomatoes having given it a score of 100% on the Tomatometer.

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

According to WorldCat, the following translations can be found in libraries around the world.

1958, the year of the books release, saw translations into French, Spanish, German and English. These included : A translation into French by Fenette Pezard and later translated by Jean Paul Manganaro in 1986, the Fernando Gutierrez translation into  Spanish, with a later translation for the Mexican Market by Roberto Mares Ochoa in 2015, (as well as further Spanish dialects such as: A Basque translation in 1995 by Koldo Biguri, A Catalan translation in 1963 by Llorenc Villalonga and a later 2000’s version by Pau Vidal, a 2005 Galician translation by Xavier Rodriguez Baixeras), A 1958 German translation by Charlotte Birnbaum and the English translation of Archibald Urquhart. IN 1959 an Arabic translation appears, with no attributed translator. Likewise, an unattributed translation into Dutch appears in 1960, together with a translation into Slovenian by Ciril Zlobec. In 1961 there were translations by Füsi József into Hungarian and into Japanese by Saku Satu. 1963 saw Jaroslav Pokorný translation into Czech, Zofia Ernstowa’s into Polish and Rui Cabeçadas into Portuguese. Two translations have been made into Russian: G.S. Brejtburda in the early 60’s Eleny Dmitrievoĭ’s during the late 2000’s. The Leopard was translated by Vjera Bakotić Mijušković into Serbian in 1975. In ’82 there was a Croatian translation by Mate Maras and Sanja Roic, as well as a Ukranian Translation by pereklad z Ītalījs'koï in 1985. There is also a 1994 unattributed Hebrew translation.

Furthermore, Publisher’s Weekly mentions the book being circulated in all Scandinavian countries, without specifying if the works were translated into the local languages.

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Excerpts published in the magazines The Reporter and Harpers Bazaar. More specific information as to which chapters to come when The Reporter is re-shelved and Harper’s Bazaar delivered from Ivy Stacks.

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A


Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was born in Palermo in 1896. His distant father was Giulio Maria Tomasi di Lampedusa, Prince of Lampedusa, and his mother, a strong and lifelong influence, was Beatrice Mastrogiovanni Tasca Filangieri di Cutò. His great grandfather, Don Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi -the last of the Lampedusa to hold major political and economic power in Sicily- served as inspiration for the partially biographic work The Leopard. On his father's side he was also related to multiple literary figures, including his laureate cousin Lucio Piccolo and man of letters and nephew Gioacchino Lanza. On his mother's side, he was a cousin of the famous 20th century figure Fulco di Verdura.

Giuseppe was raised in an aristocratic and high-culture milieu. His mother’s family money supplied a comfortable lifestyle for the otherwise ruined Lampedusa’s, who had had their estate squandered in lawsuits following Giuseppe’s great-grandfather’s death without a will. The family split their time between their palazzo in Palermo and the Filangieri di Cuto’s summer residence in Santa Margherita di Belize, where theater companies would stage plays for the family within the palace. These palaces would later become the backdrops for the spaces in The Leopard, including filming locations for Visconti’s movie. Lampedusa was largely educated by tutors, his mother and grandmother. The places, sensations and family history, the fleeting sense of a time past, merged with a boy obsessed with observation and record keeping, would later be crucial for the formation of the 20th century Italian literary masterpiece.

Lampedusa studied the law in Genoa and Turin and served as an artillery officer during The Great War. He was captured in battle and escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in Hungary. During the 20’s Lampedusa suffered a nervous breakdown which discouraged him from a diplomatic career; he continued the rest of the decade lavishly traveling around Europe with his mother. In 1932 he married German-Latvian aristocrat Alexandra von Wolff-Stormersee.  They separated following tensions between Alexandra and Beatrice. In 1940 Lampedusa served again in Marmaduca and was later president of the Sicilian Red Cross. In 1943 an Allied raid bombed Palermo and destroyed the Palazzo Lampedusa, an event that depressed the already somber Lampedusa and intensified the impulse behind the novel that would immortalize the Lampedusa family in The Leopard.

By the time he set out to write The Leopard in the 1955, Lampedusa had been planning the novel for 25 years. He worked laboriously the next two years and finished the project in 1957. The 22nd of July 1957 Giuseppe di Lampedusa read a rejection letter from the publisher Einaudi. Two days later Lampedusa died from lung cancer. He willed his estate to his cousin Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, with whom he had become close in later years. Lanza Tomasi saw the Leopard through Feltrinelli’s publication in 1958 and managed the subsequent fame of the work and legacy of the author. Lampedusa died childless and with him ended the line of princes of Lampedusa.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

The 177th volume of the Dictionary of Literary Biography – Italian Novelists Since World War II, 1945-1965- offers a rich historiography of the contemporary criticism of The Leopard.

When published in Italy, the Leopard caught on like wildfire throughout the European continent, emmeshed at the time in discussions of what a post-war society should look like considering remaining vestiges of the old order such as the Prince of Lampedusa and his aristocratic characters. Opinion was sharply divided on whether The Leopard was a bastion of an old order, a farewell to arms, or a Molotov cocktail at the titled establishment. For example, in a 2009 essay titled The Prince and his Critics, author David Forgac’s recounts how at the Biblioteca Communale of Grosseto town leaders, the clergy and everyday locals came together to debate whether The Leopard contained a moral point to it, whether it insulted Sicily and the Resorgimiento, or whether it was a national treasure. Reactionary seems to be the favored term by contemporary adversaries of the novel.

At Feltrinelli, the publishers expected a moderate success, and were aghast when leading Italian critics such as Eugenio Montale and Carlo Bo came out with encouraging reviews of the work. This generated strong momentum for sales.

Elio Vittorini, Vasco Pratolini and Alberto Moravia were Marxist sympathizers and amongst the leading critics from the left to assault the reactionary novels’ elitist tendencies. Their rage was fueled in the early historiography of Leopard criticism when news broke out that the author of the controversial novel was indeed a prince himself.  They saw literature as a tool for preparing social change towards socialism and communism after centuries of class distinctions and saw works such as The Leopard, romanticizing elitism and inequality, as important hurdles. Vittorini, the first publisher to deny The Leopard’s manuscript, said of the book as having failed to put forward a culture “apt to combat hunger and suffering, apt to put an end to exploitation and subjugation, and to overcome material needs;” of its literary merits, Vittorini dismissed them as “traditional parameters” out of step with modern styles. Pratolini denounced that Lampedusa “has put us back sixty years.” In L’Espresso of 7 April 1963, Moravia denounced the novel as merely reflecting the worldview of the Sicilian ruling class.

In 1962, Leonardo Sciascia, a progressive Sicilian critic decried the novel as “reactionary”, because “it pointed to the restoration of traditional forms of everything we [writers] had attempted to negate since the end of World War II.” Interestingly, in ’68 Sciascia modified his statement, and attributed value to The Leopard’s acute portraits of life in Sicily.

To the shock of literary left, influential French Marxist Louis Aragon wrote about The Leopard for Les Lettres Francaises on 23 December 1959 as “one of the greatest novels of this century, one of the greatest novels of all time.” He rejected the view of Lampedusa’s oeuvre as right wing and reactionary and considered that when carefully read The Leopard was a scathing attack on aristocratic values and way of life. On Le Monde of 1 December 1959 Maurice Vassard echoed the sentiment, praising Lampedusa’s literary achievements in portraying social and historic conditions of Sicily. Jean Blanzat reviewed the book in Le Figaro Litteraire of 18 November 1959 and remarked that it embodied the final work of a lifetime of introspection and meditation by a solitary writer. All French critics agreed to find strong Proustian qualities in The Leopard, to their positive reception. Back in Italy, Luigi Rosso, a left Crocean echoed the sentiments, deriding the definition of The Leopard as “a book from the right,” and per Forgacs’ "accused those who accepted it of missing the point that the novel stood ironically outside politics and reflected somberly on mortality and death.”

Since then, Italian criticism has de-emphasized ideological struggles with the thematic subject matter of The Leopard. Professional critics and scholars such as Giorgio Barberi-Squarotti (“Tomasi di Lampedusa” entry in his Poesia e narrative del secondo Novecento), Giuseppe Paolo Samona, Giacinto Spagnoletti and Arnoldo di Benedetto have weighted The Leopard in a literary light (but without forgetting the Marxist undertones to the critical discussion). Samona wrote an entire chapter dedicated to the bibliography of The Leopard’s critical reception titled “Lampedusa e la critica,” part of his larger work on The Leopard called Il Gattopardo. I Racconti. Lampedusa.

In Britain the book was met with great interest. Several critics emphasized Stendhal’s influence in Lampedusa’s writing. In the Observer of 8 May 1960, Harold Nicholson stated that the book had great “intrinsic merit” and Don Fabrizio was characterized with “a subtlety of understanding which Stendhal would have admired.”

In the United States the novel enjoyed popular success but garnered little critical attention. William Jay Smith, writing in The New Republic of 20 June 1960 enjoyed Don Fabrizio’s portrait as “a timeless figure caught between the past and present, his eyes fixed on the stars;” he found the overall book haunting: “It is the power of Lampedusa’s visual imagination that gives the book its strange and haunting vitality: he sees everything in panorama, complete down to the most minute detail.” In Notes from a European Diary: 1963-64 published in 28 May 1966 on The New Yorker Edmund Wilson wrote at length of The Leopard.  Disagreeing with the Italian Marxists, Wilson described it “not like a nineteenth century novel… told with an ironic tone… Lampedusa’s writing is full of witty phrase and color.” He commended Lampedusa’ style and authenticity, claiming The Leopard a book “that could not have been produced by a ‘pro’;” praised Lampedusa’s cultured background and probing mind and told American audiences that the book “immediately became a classic.”  

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Following the initial 1958-1960 period of first publications, The Leopard has sustained critical inquiry and revision, chiefly in Italy where both Gattopardo and Lampedusian have become adverbs. 1963 garnered a second wave of attention paid to the novel following the movie’s outstanding success. Post 1963, politics faded and stronger literary criticism came to share academic space in terms of reviewing The Leopard. Some examples of such attempts as early as the 60’s include Arthur and Catherine Evans’ Salina e Svelto: The Symbolism of Change in Il Gattopardo, and A. Pallota’s 1966 A Theme-Structure Analysis, Jeffrey Meyer’s 1967 The Influence of La Chartreuse de Parme on Il Gattopardo.

In 1989 the Italian Studies center at the Catholic University of Leuven, in conjunction with The Italian Culture Institute of Brussels staged an international symposium to reflect on the critical impact of The Leopard, seeking to primarily address the “slow sedimentation of those ideological and sentimental nucleuses that had recently divided the criticism into two opposing blocks.”

Biographies on the life and works of Lampedusa were published in the 80’s: Andrea Vitello’s Giuseppe di Lampedusa and David Gilmour’s The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa; Gilmour concluded that “No novel in Italian literature has caused so much argument, aroused so much passion and began so many quarrels as The Leopard.” On that note, Gilmour concluded his biography with a final chapter on the heated debates of contemporary criticism. In 1984 a short biography came out by Giancarlo Buzzi. It is divided into chapters called “The Life”, “Lessons on Stendhal,” “The Stories,” “The Leopard,” and “Criticism,” the bibliography of which, he rightly concludes, “is vast.”

A definitive 1995 work by Manuela Bertone simply titled Tomasi di Lampedusa offers yet another rich bibliography of critical reception of The Leopard and other works by Lampedusa. The book is divided into a part one titled “The Works and Reception” subdivided into “Profile” (with subchapters on the influence of British literature on his prose and The Leopard), “The Reception and the History of the Critic” (subchapters “The Lampedusa ‘Case’ and the Controversy over The Leopard,” “Return to The Leopard,” “The New Leopard,” “Re-Reading The Leopard,” “The Fortune of Stories.”) At the end of part one, a thirteen-page chronology is offered of comprehensive critical works on The Leopard and other Lampedusa’s works. Part two contains a biographic sketch of Giuseppe di Lampedusa as well as whole excerpts from key critiques particular to The Leopard: Louis Aragon’s A Rampant Beast: The Leopard published in Les Lettres Francaises 23 December 1959; Francesco Orlando’s Ricordo di Lampedusa a book published in 1963 (he later published a second work, L'intimità e la storia. Lettura del Gattopardo in 1998); Luchino Visconti and Antonello Trombadori’s Dialogue on The Leopard published on Trombadori’s book Il film Il Gattopardo e la regia di Luchino Visconti in 1963; Michael David’s Lampedusa and Psychoanalysis published in 1966’s Psychoanalysis in Italian Culture; Giuseppe Paolo Samona’s The Lampedusan “Broom” published in La Nuova Italia in 1975; Giovanni Machia’s The Cold Stars of The Leopard publish in 1983’s Saggi Italiani; Leonardo Sciascia’s Places of The Leopard from his 1991 book Opere 1984-1989; Nunzio Zago’s The Awkward Leopard in The Leopard and the Hiena  from 1987; Natale Tedesco’s The Blood of Birth in La Scala a Chicciola from 1991 and Arnaldo di Benedeto’s Tomasi di Lampedusa and Literature on the Historic Journal of Italian Literature (Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana) vol. CLXX, 1993.

In 2011, Lanza Tomasi and Salvatore Silvano Nigro compiled and edited Lampedusa’s travel correspondence between London and Paris. In a foreword by Francesco da Mosto, he says of The Letters from London and Europe “we can already glimpse a sort of the writing we will find in The Leopard.” In bold letters, the cover announces, “contains previously unpublished letters by the author of The Leopard.” We can surmise from the insistent connection that a favorable, quasi canonical aura has been bestowed upon work and author. A 2008 book, La lunga corsa del Gattopardo. Storia di un grande romanzo dal rifiuto al successo (“The long run of the Leopard. History of a great novel from rejection to success”) by Giancarlo Ferretti explores the almost novel-like “adventurous process” and “true story” of the failure to success story of the novel that twice failed to be published.

In the Giuseppe di Lampedusa entry for Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, introductory author Christina Petrides comments on how around the world the tone shifted too from socio-cultural critique to matters of structure, content and style. For example, she cites Richard H. Lansing’s 1978 The Structure of Meaning on Il Gattopardo’s commentary that while “recent criticism has corrected the myopia of that resulted from an intense search for political meaning in the work…it has proven more difficult to dispel the notion that Il Gattopardo lacks structural coherence and was assembled in either a hasty or ill-conceived manner.” Lansing identified “two complex patterns of narrative symmetry” which “underscored the significance of what was narrated.” Following the lead of a letter penned by Lampedusa in which he denied the novel as primarily historically, Cristina Della Colletta finds meaning in her 1996 essay Historical Reconfigurations and the Ideology of Desire: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo centered around an expression of the structural order. In 2010, David Messina “explored ‘thresholds’ between the novel’s plot and its poetics.” Gian-Paolo Basin noted in 1991 the centrality of food imagery to the plot, a vein of criticism that continues to produce scholarship right up to 2018.

In 2006, author David Mitchell picked The Leopard for The Telegraph’s Book of the Month, praising it with thoughts such as “I’d like to talk about the book’s dry wit, the keenness of its eye for nature, its meditations and its structure, where each section verifies speculations posited in the preceding one, but my 600 words are nearly up.”

In 2009, Scotland’s National Library together with Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi celebrated Il Gattopardo at Fifty, which drew international attention and critical commentary to the subject of The Leopard. Works included a short documentary and a compendium of essays by the same name as the festival. 

In the United States the memory of The Leopard has faded since the 60’s. In July 2008 Rachel Donadio penned an essay for The New York Times art section titled Lampedusa’s ‘The Leopard’ Fifty Years On. Rather passive, Donadio offers neither praise nor acclaim, simply citing previous criticism, from “Reading and rereading it has made me realize how many ways there are of being alive,” (E.M. Foster) to Lanza Tomasi admitting at a talk in NYU that “ ‘the division in class’ depicted in the novel is ‘unredeemable’.”

Still, the book remains alive in academic circles. It is a current source of literary critism albeit with more modest conceits, with essays as current as 2018 being produced with critiques ranging from the symbolism, structure metanarrative and effects of the work to the role of gastronomy and toxic nationalism in The Leopard.


Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

Writing about the Leopard is a daunting task. The scope of the work is prominent and has been exhaustively examined. Its effect has been felt from high to low culture, politics and mass media. The tight relationship to the author further adds dimension and richness to the work, while complicating meaning and multiplying the pieces of writing that wrestle with The Leopard. Both the sociopolitical narratives within the text and biographic elements of the author’s unique social position which have lent such cache to The Leopard have been already addressed in this entry. A word remains to be said about the evident differences between the text and its equally worthy counterpart in the movie format: the image of the prince of Salina has evidently been reworked, from a complex and bitingly sarcastic character to a more stereotypical pater familias of the old noblesse oblige bent, easier for the mass audience to digest. This reworking track along the same themes of one major question that has been left unanswered: Why was this a book a bestseller in the United States?

In America The Leopard was a one hit wonder quickly forgotten, but the initial furor for it that culminated in an all-time classic picture deserves more careful consideration. At face value it shares little of the characteristics described in works such as the Bestseller’s Code as archetypal features of a bestseller. Its themes are baroque and controversial: Sicilian aristocratic living, arranged and failed marriages, class struggles told by a narrator unsympathetic to a grand prince’s self-made rivals, shameless political machinations, incest and an omnipresent Catholic Church …nothing is relatable for the controversy-averse middle classes; much of it flies in the face of traditional Americana. As a work, it is undeniably by the hand of a prince writing in his own jargon and about his personal biases, a man doing catharsis after carrying centuries of Lampedusa baggage.

A starting point for better understanding why America was taken by The Leopard would be Edmund Wilson’s review for The New Yorker. Wilson best captured what perhaps is the most salient quality about The Leopard in the eyes of seemingly egalitarian and puritanical United States – it’s foreignness, the authenticity of a raconte of a stately prince by a descendant of the half-biographic character. For a country simultaneously known for its obsession with celebrities and millionaires it is not hard to see how this intimate glimpse would conform to the tastes of the reading public with a new and exotic twist, a new type of character to populate the gossip pages. It reminds one that this was the age of Truman Capote, when café society and the jet set were making exotic figures such as the Aga Khan or Gloria Guinness staples of housewife gossip.  Wilson captured the essence of this mood when he contended that a “pro” could have not produced a same work. A prince writing about a prince fascinated American audiences, with the exoticness of it all, the allure and glamour of being briefly in the know about the Italian aristocracy. It is not the unsettling narratives, but rather the fetishistic objectification of the luster of the narrative that captured the American public.

Today’s audiences are generally unfamiliar with The Leopard, yet it remains a fetishized must read for the literati. The fact that The New York Times was bothered to run an editorial about The Leopard at 50 years old attests this. This further buttress the problem and simultaneously provides a solution: why was a high brow book all the rage in the United States – famous for its distrust of academics and elites? The answer might well lie in its status as an immediate lion of modern literature, its arrival on American shores stamped with the unpsoken “must read” distinction. That the political explosions that catapulted the book to the top of the charts in Europe would have a coattail effect as the work crossed the Atlantic seems self-evident. More interesting is that the book avoided generating the overt politicking it so did in the Old World.

One main reason for this might be the fact that America simply has no direct experience in the pan-European political and historic tradition for the book to reverberate, so that it becomes impotent to operate as discourse within the nation’s political culture.  A book about a people’s weighting a choice between a republic or a constitutional monarchy and following the later option does not quite compute in the American psyche.

A more highbrow impression for this phenomena might be that the work functioned culturally in the same way that art did at the height of the cold war – that America’s tastemakers and leading intellectuals sought to emphasize the artistry and beauty of the work as critics such as Clement Greenberg did with abstract painting in the medium of the plastic arts; thereby de-emphasizing the inherently Marxist bent for political polemics and upholding the distinctively Western-bourgeois values of aesthetics, beauty, and arts for art sake; much which can be find in the sheer beauty of Lampedusa’s outstanding talents for setting and mood.

Still, this does not assuage the anxiety that naturally rises. The book’s feudal order mirrors the plantation model and turn of the century wage-slave exploitative systems. It reminds one of terms engrained in the American lexicon (merchant princes or robber barons), or turns in our own history as the socio-economic baton was passed from the aristocratic plantation families in the Tidewater over to industrial tycoons in the north -- much as the rains of Donafugatta’s society are foreboded to transfer from Don Fabrizio to Don Calogero (the book’s nouveau-riche antihero).That critics failed to confront the almost reflexive connection, particularly as the book arrived charged with social discourse on inherited privilege, societal norms along gender lines, political enfranchisement and democratization onto a country on the verge of social rupture ahead of the Civil Rights Movement and fundamental societal liberation which would by the end of the decade end in profound changes for people of color, women and queer people seems either lacking in creativity, foresight, or humanity.

From this inflection point, I offer one new possible theory for the value the American public saw in the book during in 1960: That implicitly The Leopard was also political in the U.S. and resonated with the public as such.

The years between 1958 and 1960 produced profound changes at home and abroad. John F. Kennedy was elected president riding high a wave of optimism in the future, embodied by the arrival of Camelot to the White House. Abroad, the Cold War was intensifying at an alarming place, and it seemed that the order at any time threatened to give into chaos. Amid these dynamics, a novel was written, about a world at an inflection point between the old and the new; promising prosperity while warning of the dangers of too much faith in the political machine. Its characters were noble characters, simultaneously being handed their comeuppance while being glittering embodiments of the best and brightest.

At home, millions of people decided that enough was enough. In the United States, African Americans had endured another century of state enforced oppression in the form of separate but equal, sharecropping, Jim Crowe laws and lynching. With the explosion of the post-war educated middle class, the deep injustices of the inequities of the system the movement for Civil Rights Movement was reaching a feverish pitch ever since Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white woman.

I propose that to encounter The Leopard as a bestseller just four years shy from the passing of the Civil Rights Act is not a mere coincidence, but that rather it speaks of The Leopard as a novel that got to the core of the esprit de temps of the early 60’s, becoming a bestseller by speaking to people’s unconscious political anxieties in a veiled manner.

In The Leopard the fundamental motor underlying the narrative movement is the political events of Italian Unification roughly a century before the book’s publishing. At the heart of it all stands a family that braces to see its world be consumed and changed in less than a decade. All that rests to be seen is how the old prince, his frustrated firstborn, a young and dashing count, a self-made man and the two women of different upbringing vying for the count’s love, a priest and a land laborer will see their social dynamics change or stay the same ahead of fundamental sociopolitical reform.

Whether you agree with the Marxist’s that condemned the novel, or with the Marxist’s who extolled it, the shared belief is primarily the same: The Leopard is undoubtedly a novel about reactions to major and impending political change. As political reform loomed in the air of United States politics in the 60’s, the echoes to the promise of liberation, or the dangers of irresponsible reform; the cartooning of an outgoing generation, or the longing for stoic and steady leadership of the old kind, the novel resonated with the American middle class precisely because of its unusual characteristics, functioning during a unique time.

For example, the anxiety of the Salina’s, spoken through Don Fabrizio, is manifested over their loss of landholdings, a recurrent theme of the prince’s inner dialogues. In this, we see a similarity to national anxieties over the alignment of the third world in Africa and India, the culminating Korean War and burgeoning Vietnam War, and forthcoming coups in Latin America; all driven by a national anxiety over hegemony and control of geopolitical real estate. Furthermore, Don Fabrizio fears not only his loss but the idea of who will replace him -- the ambitious and opportunist up and comings such as Don Calogero, the “hyena” to his “leopard”. Again, this is reminiscent of the moral stance of Freedom against the Empire of Evil and the stakes at play in geopolitical jockeying. 

The Leopard also asks complicated questions about democratic representation in the modern era. In the novel, Don Fabrizio is stuck between putting up a fight on behalf of the aristocratic regime or letting republicanism take course. While at first readers may conclude that the republic is the better answer as the ancestral system of feudal relationships had led to centuries of societal stagnation for most Sicilians, by the end of the novel it becomes apparent that republicanism brings with it its own baggage and fake promises, crystalized by the rigged voted for a si in the plebiscite, which was registered as 100 percent of Donafugatta even as Don Fabrizio hears from his confidante Don Chiccio that he had voted otherwise and was not alone doing so. Don Fabrizio never resolves his stance, neither accepting the senatorship offered to him due to his status as Prince of Salina, nor challenging the fraudulent elections as he is pleaded to do so by Don Chicccio.

In the 60’s, questions about representation dominated the domestic political conversation, particularly around the enfranchisement of the African American community. Follow a century of literacy tests, poll taxes and intimidation tactics the United States was gearing up for an overhaul of election policies and enforcement of protections nationwide. On the progressive side, proponents argued the time had come to liberate millions from old societal structures which held millions in conditions of historical servitude. Conservatives feared major voter and enfranchisement reform was a vehicle for state control and a replacement of one injustice with another this time less favorable to those who marginally benefited from the existing relationships of power like Don Chiccio who enjoyed preferred status from the Salina’s patronage. Both mirror the disquietedness that surrounded the plebiscite of 1860.

All the while, beautiful Angelica (Don Calogero’s daughter) rises from her family’s humble origins to dominate with cunning and charm all the major courts of the Italian peninsula, outdoing her rival Concetta for the love of Concetta’s cousin Count Tancredi and enchanting Don Fabrizio into consenting to the marriage; so adroitly orchestrating the arrangement Concetta in the end can’t help herself but be happy for the addition of Angelica to the family. A refreshing example of the American Dream and common-sense smarts in a world dominated by stagnation and anxiety; a promise of continued prosperity and opportunity for a post-war generation riding the heights of never seen before progress yet goading us to also confront the backs of those on whom this progress was attained as we encounter Concetta’s grief over a broken promise.  

In short, the novel was as political in the United States as it was in Europe. Commentators having failed to pick up on the themes as it pertained to America, the novel none the less had ample tangent points through which, consciously or unconsciously, drive the American reading public locate themselves within a wider context, interrogate their positions, and rea-firm their own political beliefs.

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