Many people who see this post will have read The Leopard – I read it for the first time in 1982 and have gone back to it several times in the past 30+ years.  For me it is one of the few novels that is truly unforgettable.

Set in Sicily in 1860 during the Risorgimento, it was rejected twice and was only published a year after the author’s death in 1957.  The protagonist is Prince Fabrizio Salina, an old-school Sicilian aristocrat.

Garibaldi and his volunteer army have landed in Sicily to start a revolution in the south, to widen the movement for Italian unification, and to march on Rome. The Leopard relates the struggle of the Sicilian aristocracy to survive in the face of societal change.  As Fabrizio says:  “Change everything just a little so as to keep everything exactly the same.”

Although this is not a plot-driven novel I don’t intend to give away the plot, as a courtesy to those who have not yet read it.  I would like to be able read it (Il Gattopardo) in its original Italian;  there have been minor criticisms of Archibald Colquhoun’s English translation but I am not in a position to find fault with it, and I find his choice of  language superb.

I want to repeat a particularly well chosen paragraph originally selected by Richard Horton in his 1997 review of The Leopard.  It deals with the courtship of Fabrizio’s nephew Tancredi and his lovely Angelica.  Observe its elegance and depth.

“Those were the best days in the life of Tancredi and Angelica, lives later to be so variegated, so erring, against the inevitable background of sorrows. But that they did not know then; and they were pursuing a future which they deemed more concrete than it turned out to be, made of nothing but smoke and wind. When they were old and uselessly wise their thoughts would go back to those days with insistent regret, they had been days when desire was always present because it was always overcome, when many beds had been offered and refused, when the sensual urge, because restrained, had for one second been sublimated in renunciation, that is into real love. Those days were the preparation for a marriage which, even erotically, was no success; a preparation which, however, was in a way sufficient to itself, exquisite and brief, like those melodies which outlive the forgotten works they belong to and hint in their delicate and veiled gaiety at themes which later in the finished work were to be developed without skill, and fail.”

David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) noted in 2006:  “What makes The Leopard an immortal book is that it kisses perfection full on the mouth.  Its major theme – the workings of mortality – is explored with an intelligence and poignancy rarely equalled and never, to my knowledge, surpassed.”

Here is the Amazon link: