Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Thursday, March 15, 2007
Il Gattopardo
Published posthumously in 1958, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is a novel by an unknown, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The author himself had submitted the manuscript while he was alive but was told by an Italian editor that it was unpublishable, according to the About the Author note at the end of the English translation edition.
Discovered and published shortly after Lampedusa's death, Il Gattopardo became the top-selling novel in Italian history. It has been highly praised by critics. Daniel Mendelsohn, a contributor to The New York Review of Books has placed it on the list of his ten favorite books, alongside works by authors including Homer, Dickens, Austin, Tolstoy and Proust.
The Story
Most of the novel is set during the time of the Risorgimento. This long revolution, led by one of Italy's greatest true life heroes, Giuseppe Garibaldi, was the military, political and social process that unified disparate states of the Italian peninsula into the single nation of Italy.
At the center of Il Gattopardo is an aristocratic family of Sicily headed by the Prince, Don Fabrizio Corbera. The narrative is primarily in his voice. The story opens in the year 1860 as the General Garibaldi is on his way to invade and conquer Sicily.
Il Gattopardo was published in English in 1960. The translator was Archibald Colquhoun who also has received high praise from critics for the lyrical clarity of the translation.
Plot Point
If you are someone who cares deeply about the human spirit, and more prosaicly, the democratic process, it's a section in the third chapter of this exquisitely written book that will wound your heart.
Prince Don Fabrizio and his family are staying at their summer palace in the remote and tiny inland town of Donnafugata. In this part of the narrative, the Prince is out hunting with one of the family's lifelong and most loyal servants, Don Ciccio. Only the evening before, the very first democratic election that created Italy as the whole it is still today had just taken place. For the first time in his life, the servant Don Ciccio had been allowed to vote, to cast a yes or no to the existence of this new state, Italy.
Don Ciccio and the Prince Don Fabrizio have been discussing the election. Local officials had announced that the results of the election were unanimous – 100 percent of the Donnafugata citizenry had voted yes to the new government. But, an angry and disillusioned Don Ciccio has just told the Prince he had voted no.
At this point calm descended on Don Fabrizio, who had finally solved the enigma; now he knew who had been killed at Donnafugata, at a hundred other places, in the course of that night of dirty wind; a newborn babe: good faith; just the very child who should have been cared for most, whose strengthening would have justified all the silly vandalisms. Don Ciccio's negative vote, fifty similar votes at Donnafugata, a hundred thousand “noes'” in the whole Kingdom, would have had no effect on the result, and this maiming of souls would have been avoided.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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