Published 27 Dec 2016
Risorgimento or also known as the “Revival” or the “Italian Unification,” is the nineteenth century revolutionary movement, which joined different region of Italy into one peninsula. This period is assumed to have begun with the arrival f Napoleon and the end of Franco Prussian War in 1815. It was basically a socio political movement which formulated today’s Kingdom of Italy.
This time span was filled with artistic and literally forms of nationalism which spread the spirit of unification through out the peninsula like fire, who promoted the idea of free, independent and a republic Italy, with Rome as its capital.
The life of Sicily during the Risorgimento is very tactfully and vividly explained by the famous Italian novelist, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, in his famous novel, “Il Gattopardo,” first published in 1958, and was later translated to English by the name “the Leopard.” In 1911 he also served in the army, being patriotic and heroic in the war of Caporetto, he was taken in as a prisoner in Hungary. Later after his escape, he went out for traveling, learning more about foreign literature, and it was in this period that he perceived his first novel, the leopard. It is believed that after he finished writing his novel in 1956, it was rejected by the publisher; and it was a year later after his sudden death from lung cancer in 1958, that excellence of his work was recognized, it was not even published but also won the Strega Prize. While some also believe that the initial rejection that the novel attained, wasn’t because of poor literary matter but was due had its political reasons enveloped with it.
Another tale about the author regards him as the last prince of the Sicily state, or the Duke of Palma, and claims that he wrote this novel on his rand father, another Prince of Lampedusa. The story further goes that it was after the palace at Lampedusa was bombarded in the Second World War that Tomasi sank down in great depression, and it was in this incomplete state of helplessness that he wrote this legendary novel, which is still remembered as revolutionary.
The original title, Il Gattopardo, literally means as the cat, which was like an heirloom for the author’s family, thus holds great respect and honor for him. In the translated version, however, it has been titled as “the leopard.”
The novel caters to many historical events which at that time took place in Italy, while some of the most important ones included the invasion of Garibaldi onto the Sicilian coast, the Unification of Italy and the changing system from aristocracy to a more democratic society thus showing dramatic changes for the people.
Most of the novel has been based upon the time when Italy was going through the Risorgimento period, when the voice of Guiseppe Garibaldi, for the unification of Italy was on the rise. The story starts to open when his army lands on the coast of Sicily, and is planning to overthrow the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. However, the secondary plot revolves around how the political situation of the country influences the ordinary people of the country, such as the aristocratic Salina family, lead by Prince Fabrizio.
Donadio Rachel, in his article, published on 31 July, 2008, the New York Times, titled as “the Leopard Turns 50,” while describing the excellence of the book states, “Sicily is the key to Italy, as Goethe once wrote, and one novel is the key to Sicily: “The Leopard,” Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s masterpiece.” (Donadio, 2008) He states that this novel is the most perfect depiction of the times of aristocracy that this world has lost.
Leopards protagonist, Prince Frabozi who is shown as a rich aristrocrat of great knowledge, position and social status, a man benevolent with money and customed to living by traditions. The novel finds grave tragedy in his life, when his favorite nephew, Prince Tancredi, is apt on supporting the coming revolution, not through the mere interest of embracing the change but for his love for money, status and position in the new developing society. Thus for the sake of money and an artificial life, tancredi marries at a lower place, just for the sake of money; where Frabozi accepts how his monarchy was finally being over ruled by the midle class slowing coming to power. He also speaks the heart of the novel which describes the entire book beautifully saying that; “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” (Ebert, 2003)
The final death of the prince by which he is left to cater his unmarried daughters, his splitting property and nevertheless the broken government. This death does not only represent the sad dismisal of Lampedusa’s but also marks the end towards the monarchy of Sicily.
This novel is a representation of the changing society, of how Garibaldi’s revolution brought the entire empire to shift its way of living and its traditions according to the new rule. The dying of the pronce echoes pf how an entire era had eventually come to an end with the invasion, bronging his knowledge and morality all to an end. The story finds its grimace with Fabrizio realizing that even with his place in the society he is helpless and cannot stop the change from engulfing the entire society. It also paints the countryside of Sicily in a very picturesque and vivid manner, which helps the readers imagine the country at the time of Risorgimento.
One of the famous quotes taken from the book which describes the Sicilian fall and the rise of new era is as follows;
“All this shouldn’t last; but it will, always; the human ‘always,’ of course, a century, two centuries… and after that it will be different but worse. We were the Leopards, the Lions; those who’ll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us Leopards, jackals, and sheep, we’ll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth.” (Lampedusa, 1958)
The novel was later in 1963 depicted in the form of a film by director Luchino Visconti, and the cast included Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon. It like the novel was set in the mood of 1860, when Italy was in the process of unification, with the monarchy coming to an end. However, both the movie and the novel have been criticized for being too disillusioned by the Unification, and to be overly skeptic of its negative effects upon the lives of the people. It was taken more as a more negative Marxist theory who claimed it as merciless and the Catholics were pessimistic of its view points. Generally it is taken as an objective side of the story; however it covers the true aspects of the history which did exist in the lives of those suffering through the revolution.
Lampedusa, no matter had a royal birth, born with an actual silver spoon in his mouth, unfortunately had to face the fall of his family’s position; thus it explains his flight f anger and depression seen throughout the novel. He well understood the political motives of leaders as he had spent his entire life amongst them, and was able to comprehend what would befall them in the future.
Leopard is a story which directly comes from the heart of a person who suffered through the loss of his kingdom; thus it tells the tale of a man who faced revolution at peak and saw how his life might change marking the history of a new revolution.
- Donadio, R. (2008, July 31). ‘The Leopard’ Turns 50. The essay. The New York Times.
- Ebert, R. (2003, September 14). The Leopard (1963). Retrieved from http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20030914%2FREVIEWS08%2F309140302%2F1023&AID1=&AID2=%2F20030914%2FREVIEWS08%2F309140302%2F1023
- Lampedusa, G. T, (1958). The Leopard. Current Edition: Pantheon. ISBN: 0679731210 Chapter 4