The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
In 2012 The Observer named Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) one of the best ten historical novels of all time. It is one of the top selling novels in Italian history and it is considered one of the most important books in modern Italian literature. Since it was published posthumously by Feltrinelli in November 1958, it has been translated into 46 languages and it is one of the most beloved literary works in the whole world. Il Gattopardo, the film that Luchino Visconti shot in 1963 starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, is one of the masterpieces of this celebrated film director.
The Leopard stands out from the historical novel of the Nineteenth century, representing the new development of novel writing in the Twentieth century. For Lampedusa, the new novel is mainly psychological. The topic is not a history of events but rather the history of human anxiety. Lampedusa’s authors of reference are Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Thomas S. Elliot and Freud’s psychoanalytical theory. Prince Fabrizio, the main character, is conscious of human limits as he lives through the ages of mankind: youth and sex, midlife, old age and death, a succession of 60 years. And he develops a stoical attitude, a frame within which he moves through the changes of life with a clearer insight. The famous sentence of his nephew Tancredi, “Everything must change for everything to remain the same” appears to transform, on Don Fabrizio’s deathbed, into “if you don’t change, time will change you”. It is a novel where the temporal limits of human nature are always present, melancholic, touching and wise.
The author, Giuseppe Tomasi Prince of Lampedusa, had his family home, Palazzo Lampedusa, razed to the ground by the Allies’ bombing of Palermo in April 1943. At the end of the Forties, he bought part of a Palazzo on via Butera 28, in the historic centre of Palermo, in the Kalsa neighborhood, where he would live until his death in July 1957. In the mid-19th century the palazzo had belonged to his great-grandfather, Prince Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi di Lampedusa, an amateur astronomer.
In his last years of life, Giuseppe Tomasi decided to write a novel partly based on his great-grandfather’s life at the time of the Italian Risorgimento and named it Il Gattopardo, inspired by his family crest representing a golden leopard.
Giuseppe Tomasi was childless and had adopted a young cousin, Gioacchino Lanza di Mazzarino, to be his heir. After his adoptive father’s death, Gioacchino bought the other part of the Palazzo, heavily damaged by the bombs, and lovingly restored the whole building to its former splendour. Part of the Palazzo hosts now Butera 28 Apartments.
The private apartments of the Palazzo include the writer’s house museum featuring the Prince’s historical library that has remained intact since his death, the pieces of furniture and the paintings that he had salvaged from the rubble of the destroyed Palazzo Lampedusa, and all of his manuscripts: 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.