The Leopard Makes a History Lesson Painless

The Leopard, Guiseppe di Lampedusa’s only novel, traces the deline of traditional Sicilian culture as the Italian state rises.

Don Fabrizio, the head of the family whose crest is the leopard, is an old-world aristocrat. He owns thousands of acres and is no stranger to audiences with the Bourbon King Ferdinand. Politics, however, has little interest for him. He has his wife and family, his estates, his mistresses, and his astronomy.

Don Fabrizio’s nephew Tancredi has the political acuity to foresee the consequences of Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily. Seeing the uncouth Mayor of Salina,  Don Sedara, buying property from financially pinched aristrocrats, Tancredi hitches his wagon to the Sedara star by marrying Sedara’s gorgeous daughter.

By the time of Fabrizio’s death, there’s nothing left of the family fortunes but the name.

Di Lampedusa develops his novel as a series of snapshots of the Fabrizio family between 1860 and 1910.  Readers don’t get close to any characters, but they do get a sense of the causes of the sweeping social changes in Europe the last half of the 19th century.

Though The Leopard is not a particularly entertaining novel, it beats a history book as an introduction to the rise of the modern European state.

The Leopard
By Guiseppe di Lampedusa
Trans by Archibald Colquhoun
Pantheon Books,  1960
320 pages
My grade: B
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni.

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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