The Leopard is set during the period of the Risorgimento, the popular nineteenth century movement to unite the various states of Italy into a single country. As the book opens, revolutionary leader Giuseppe Garibaldi is invading Sicily. After securing the island and the southern portion of the Italian peninsula (together the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) from the Bourbon regime, he will offer the territory to another monarch, King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, who will then rule a united Italy.
The Leopard is a leisurely, episodic novel divided into eight chapters, each identified by month and year as well as by title. The first four take place in 1860, and the next two in 1861 and 1862, respectively. The seventh chapter takes place in 1888, and it and the eighth chapter, set in 1910, function almost as codas to the first six.
The book’s first chapter, “Introduction to the Prince,” takes place in May, 1860, and actually functions as an introduction to the entire book, ranging backward in time and involving most of the book’s characters and themes. The prince of the title is Don Fabrizio Corbera, the proud, sensual, intellectually skeptical prince of Salina. An amateur astronomer whose greatest satisfaction derives from studying the heavens, he has discovered and named two asteroids. Don Fabrizio is married to Princess Maria Stella, and their children include a son, Paolo, and three daughters, Carolina, Concetta, and Caterina.
Although he loves his children, Don Fabrizio finds them conventional. He reserves his highest regard for his high-spirited nephew and ward, Tancredi, who has actually joined the forces of Garibaldi. As Tancredi explains, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” In turn, the bemused Don Fabrizio, who sees a reflection of his younger self in Tancredi, gives him a roll of gold coins to help him in his effort.
Set in August of the same year, “Donnafugata” recounts the Salinas’ annual visit to a distant and peaceful estate, which Lampedusa based closely on his own family’s estate of Santa Margherita. They are accompanied by Tancredi, who has been given a month’s leave from Garibaldi’s victorious army. At Donnafugata the prince hears of the growing wealth and power of the town’s mayor, Don Calogero Sedàra. He also learns that his...
(The entire section is 966 words.)