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Almost Europe


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The Leopard

Almost Europe


The princess found everything admirable and, in spite of her established position in Russian society, she tried abroad to be like a European lady, which she was not – for the simple reason that she was typically Russian. And because she was being artificial she did not feel altogether at ease. The prince, on the contrary, considered everything foreign detestable and life abroad unendurable, clung to his Russian habits and purposely tried to show himself abroad less European than he was in reality. (Tolstoy, Anna Karennina)
The real ruler, to whom everything is permitted, destroys Toulon, butchers in Paris, forgets an army in Egypt, expends half a million men in a Moscow campaign….everything is permitted to him. (Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment)
The Capital is a city of contrasts; it presents brilliant light in close proximity to deep gloom; refined life, almost European, in the centre; in the suburbs, African existence, like that of an Arab village. (Baroja, The Quest)
He felt nothing at all. Only that it seemed a shame to waste so much time and energy. What improvidence, what nabobish profligacy, to squander all our experience, to spill them carelessly, along with all the wine, on to the floor! Somewhere on the banks of the Seine, from so many good intentions, from so many colours and emotions, whole buildings could be created. (Kosztolanyi, Skylark)
The ‘Southern Question’ in Europe
In northern climates, you shall find peoples who have few vices, a sufficient number of virtues, and a lot of frankness and sincerity. Draw near the southern countries, and you will think you have left morality far behind…(Montesquieu, 1748)
In ancient times the southern peoples surpassed all others in their imaginative capacities and therefore in every endeavour; in modern times the northern peoples have surpassed by far the southern because of the same imaginative capacities. The reason for this is that in ancient times the actual state of things and of cultured opinion favoured the imagination to the same extent that in modern times it goes against it. (Leopardi, 1825)
The man of the south, placed like a king of the universe under the canopy of an ever serene sky, daily reveling in flowers and fruits….intoxicated, not with ideal, but with sensual gratification, has no distant future to anticipate….the man of the north, on the other hand, endowed with the sublimest gift of all gifts – that of directing his own destiny…(Charles-Victor de Bonstetten, 1824)
Italy and the ‘Southern Question’
In Italy…the “Southern Question” evokes a powerful image of the provinces south of Rome as different from the rest of the peninsula, above all for their historic poverty and economic underdevelopment, their engagement in a clientelistic style of politics, and their cultural support for patriarchal gender relations and for various manifestations of organized crime. (Jane Schneider, 1998)
Every regime that governed southern Italy from the Norman establishment of a centralized monarchy in the twelfth century to the unified government which took over there in 1861 was foreign and governed with the logic of colonial exploitation. (Scott Tarrow, 1996)

Naples, Sicily and Faces of the South


Europe ends at Naples and ends there quite badly. Calabria, Sicily, all the rest belongs to Africa. (Augustin Creuze de Lesser, 1806)
This is not Italy! This is Africa: compared to these peasants the Bedouins are the pinnacle of civilization. (Luigi Carlo Farini, 1860)
In Milan, in Turin, one finds modern society…In Florence it is like the time of the Medicis…In Rome you are immersed in the Middle Ages…In Naples, we re-enter the pagan era…Move from there into Puglia, into the principality of Salerno, and the customs present themselves to you with all the naïve simplicity of ancient times. (Alfred Maury, 1854)
In Naples I can’t stand it. No, I just can’t stand it; it is too much for me. The total extinction of all moral sentiment, that’s the revolting spectacle that this vile people present. (Ernst Renan, 1849)
Let the modern Italian be what they may…a dirty, demoralized, degraded, unprincipled race, - centuries behind our thrice-blessed, prosperous, and comfort-loving nation in civilization and morals….I am not come to spy out the nakedness of the land, but to implore from her healing airs and lucid skies the health and peace I have lost…(Anna Jameson, 1826)
The misery of the island is not to be attributed to the laziness of the Sicilians, but to the lack of capital. (Francesco Forti, 1832)
The landlord finds himself isolated in the middle of an army of peasants. The submission of the latter is immense…But all this is not the result of affection or esteem. He could kneel down before his master with the same feeling with which the Indian worships the tempest or lightning. The day that this charm were broken, the peasant would rise up to avenge himself (Pasquale Villari, 1885)
The Leopard: ‘Backwardness’ and the Novel form
The Leopard generated much confusion….Out of what literary genre did The Leopard spring? Where does it belong? Who did Lampedusa emulate in his writing? Proust, Tolstoy, Pirandello, Stendhal – there are so many candidates they cancel one another out. The difficulty of matching the novel with something familiar to the intellegentsia is perhaps the reason E.M.Forster called it “one of those lonely books”. (Ricahrd O’Mara, 2008)
Don Fabrizio heard the preceding rumbles, but it was Lampedusa who lived in the time of the full social avalanche….Hence …a certain disjunction and diffraction…A kind of double vision…The renunciation itself of the classical mode of continuous narration f the 19th century novel in favour of a narration by “leaps and bounds”. (Eduardo Saccone, 1991)
Recent criticism has corrected the myopia that resulted in an intense search for political meaning in the work, but it has proved more difficult to dispel the notion that Il Gattopardo lacks structural coherence and was assembled in either a hasty or an ill-conceived manner. Remarks by Eugenio Montale that the narrative was not always “armonioso e proporzionate” that it…could do without several superfluous scenes, including the entire fifth chapter, which he considered digressive and insignificant were echoed by Luigi Blasucci. (Richard H. Lansing, 1978)
I would not like you to believe that this is an historical novel! (Lampedusa, 1957)
The dog Bendico is a vitally important character and practically the key to the novel. (Lampedusa, 1957)
The Leopard: Art Embodying History
The Prince put one under his nose and seemed to be sniffing the thigh of a dancer from the Opera….he remembered the nausea diffused throughout the entire villa by certain sweetish odours before their cause was traced. (The Leopard, Introduction to the Prince)
No laughs, though, came from the Prince on whom, one might almost say, this news had more effect than the bulletin about Garibaldi’s landing at Marsala….Now, with his sensibility to presages and symbols, he saw revolution in that white tie and two black tails moving at this moment up the stairs of his own home. (The Leopard, Donnafugata)
Put in modern terms he could be said to be in the state of mind of someone to-day who thinks he has boarded one of the easy-going old planes pottering between Palermo and Naples, and suddenly finds himself shut inside a Super Jet and realises he would be at his destination almost before there was time to make the sign of the Cross. (The Leopard, The Troubles of Don Fabrizio)
Do you really think, Chevally, that you are the first who has hoped to canalise Sicily into the flows of universal history?….Now even people here are repeating what was written by Proudhon and some German Jew whose name I can’t remember, that the bad state of things, here and elsewhere, is all due to feudalism; that it’s my fault as it were. Maybe. But there’s been feudalism everywhere and foreign invasions too….the reason for the difference must lie in this sense of superiority that dazzles every Sicilian eye, and which we ourselves call pride while in reality it’s blindness. For the moment, for a long time to come, there’s nothing to be done. (The Leopard, Love at Donnafugata)
As the carcass was dragged off, the glass eyes stared at her with the humble reproach of things discarded in the hope of final riddance. A few minutes later what remained of Bendico was flung into a corner of the yard….During the flight down from the window its form recomposed itself for an instant; in the air there seemed to be dancing a quadruped with long whiskers….then all found peace in a little heap of livid dust. (The Leopard, Relics)
Selected Readings
Nelson Moe, The View from Vesuvius (Berkeley, LA and London: University of California Press, 2002)
Richard H.Lansing, The Structure of Meaning in Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo, PMLA 93:3, 1978 (409-422)
Eduardo Saccone, ‘Nobility and Literature: Questions on Tomasi di Lampedusa,

MLN 106 (1991), 159-178


Jane Schneider (ed), Italy’s “Southern Question”: Orientalism in one country (Berg: Oxford and New York, 1998)


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