The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

The Leopard has been on my to-read list for some time and I’m glad I finally got round to it. It’s a novel, written by a Sicilian prince in the 1950s, about the declining aristocracy in Sicily in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The leopard of the title is the Prince of Salina, whose heraldic emblem is a leopard. The novel is centred around him, but he is a curiously passive figure. The world he grew up in crumbles around him and he gloomily but pragmatically goes with the flow.

stuffed leopard

The book is nostalgic and melancholy in tone—in so far as a writer can be nostalgic for something that happened before he was born—and it exhibits a kind of regret for a lost world; but crucially, it doesn’t read, to me, as wishing to turn the clock back. The aristocratic world represents a special kind of elegance and sophistication in the book and the shift of power to a nouveau riche class of merchants as a coarsening of society, but the book doesn’t attempt to claim the aristocrats as especially virtuous or deserving of their position. It reminds me a bit of Proust: not immune to snobbery and the glamour of the aristocracy, but just a bit too clear-sighted to fully buy into it.

It’s low-key and atmospheric and rather wonderful.

» The photo is a stuffed leopard in the Crystal Palace and is from the British Library collection.

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