The Leopard is the Gone with Wind of Sicily in that it documents the melancholy and ruinous effects on one character of drastic, unstoppable political and cultural changes in the surrounding area, changes that destroy the leisurely life of the landed aristocracy by both war and commerce.
I found the general sweep of the novel hard to appreciate because the author doesn’t describe or explain the historical context so much as suggest it. I did enjoy the style of writing, and greatly appreciated the wry humor, especially a sequence related to the priest Father Pirrone (see below).
I found these analyses useful:
Shmoop: The Leopard
Schmoop notes include plot summary, character descriptions, and explanations of themes, symbols, etc.
New York Times: Lampedusa’s The Leopard, fifty years on
The article notes that some have interpreted the novel as a defense of the aristocracy while others have seen it as a critique of the aristocracy.
See below for what stood out, as well as when and why I read the book.
What Stood Out When I Read The Leopard
Father Pirrone is, for reasons I don’t totally understand, called in to officially witness a meeting between Don Fabrizio, the aristocrat, and Don Calogero, the mayor, about a possible marriage of Don Fabrizio’s nephew Tancredi with Don Calogero’s daughter Angelica.
I found these descriptions of Father Pirrone’s behavior during the meeting hilarious:
Father Pirrone’s eyes were turned to the ceiling, as if he were a master mason charged with judging its solidity…. Father Pirrone had transformed himself from architectural expert into Moslem sage and, with four fingers of his right hand crossed in four fingers of his left, was rotating his thumbs around each other, turning and changing their direction with a great display of choreographic fantasy…. Father Pirrone switched off the turbine of his thumbs. (132–135)
When called upon by Don Fabrizio to testify that there was “endless good” in Tancredi:
The excellent Jesuit, dragged from his reading, found himself suddenly facing an unpleasant dilemma. He had been Tancredi’s confessor, and he knew quite a number of his little failings: none of them very serious, of course, but such as to detract quite a good deal from the endless goodness of which the Prince had spoken; and all of them such (he almost felt like saying) as to guarantee the firmest marital infidelity. This, of course, could not actually be said both for sacramental reasons and from worldly convention. On the other hand he liked Tancredi, and though he disapproved of the wedding with all his heart, he would never say a word which could either impede it or in any way cloud its course. He took refuge in Prudence, most tractable of the cardinal virtues. “The fund of goodness in our dear Tancredi is great indeed, Don Calogero, and sustained by Divine Grace and by the earthly virtues of Signorina Angelica he may become, one day, an excellent Christian husband.” The prophecy, risky but prudently conditional, passed muster. (136)
Father Pirrone did let his tongue cluck on his palate; then, annoyed at having shown his own amazement, he tried to rhyme the improvident sound by making his chair and shoes squeak and by crackling the leaves of his breviary, but he failed completely; the impression remained. (140)
When and Why I Read The Leopard
This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book club for August 2017.
Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 15-Aug-17 to 20-Aug-17
Length: 322 pages
Originally published in: 1958
Amazon link: The Leopard