Di Lampedusa, Prince Giuseppe Tomasi

(1896–1957)
   The scion of a noble Palermo family, Di Lampedusa is the author of Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1958), arguably the greatest 20thcentury Italian novel and one of the greatest historical novels ever written. The book tells the tale of the decline of the ancient Salina family after the Risorgimento and the rise of the middle class, represented in the novel by the figure Don Calogero Sedara, the mayor of a small village on one of the Salina family’s estates, and his beautiful but unprincipled daughter Angelica. Prince Fabrizio Salina (the “leopard” is his family emblem) allows Angelica to marry Tancredi, his favorite nephew, convinced that the best way to preserve his power and position is to go along with the revolutionary spirit of the times. In a phrase that has become famous as a perfect definition of the perennial Italian vice of trasformismo, Tancredi tells his uncle: “If everything is to stay the same, everything has to change.” The irony of the novel is that the social structure of liberal Italy does remain the same as before, but the Salinas are replaced by the upstart Sedaras and their ilk. At one point, Salina says that “after us will come the age of the hyenas and the jackals.” This brief summary of the novel’s plot, however, does not do justice to its thematic and philosophic complexity or its vivid and sensuous descriptions. Luchino Visconti brilliantly captured the novel’s sad beauty in his 1963 film version.
   Despite the book’s universal appeal and the author’s manifest genius, Il Gattopardo was the center of a literary debate when it first appeared. In many ways, conservative in personal philosophy and certainly profoundly pessimistic, the book was dismissed by the neorealist establishment in the Italian literary world, and it was only thanks to the efforts of the writer Giorgio Bassani that the book saw the light of day in 1959—two years after the author’s death.
   See also Literature; Southern Italy.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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