Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1860, Sicily, a land reduced to political apathy by centuries of conquest and foreign rule, is being invaded by Giuseppe Garibaldi’s red-shirted volunteers. Don Fabrizio, prince of the ancient feudal house of Salina, waits to see whether Garibaldi is only another upstart adventurer or a patriot dedicated to the unification of Italy under il galantuomo, the Piedmontese king Victor Emmanuel. A tawny-haired man of passive disposition, great physical energy in the hunting field, strong sensual appetites, and some reputation as an amateur astronomer, the prince rules his family and the peasants on his estates with unconscious arrogance. Although his allegiance is to King Francis II, his common sense tells him that the Bourbon regime in Naples is tottering and will soon fall. At the same time, he is too shrewd and worldly-wise to expect that the Risorgimento will greatly transform a way of life that has been molded by Byzantine tax collectors, Berber emirs, Spanish viceroys, the Catholic Church, and the Bourbons. Faced with the necessity of choosing a side, he hesitates and, in the end, does nothing. For him, while all Italy is being shaken, life goes on very much as before. He ignores his pious wife, dislikes his heir, keeps a mistress close at hand for his bodily needs and a browbeaten chaplain for his soul’s salvation, and watches the stars.
The only person for whom the prince has any real affection is his penniless, scapegrace nephew Tancredi, prince of Falconeri, in whom he finds a reflection of his own restless youth. Ironically, his fondness for the boy turns out to be his salvation. When Tancredi goes off to join Garibaldi in the hills, Don Fabrizio gives him a roll of gold pieces. This act of love and family feeling has political consequences, for when the Garibaldists triumph, Don Fabrizio finds himself regarded as a supporter of their cause.
As for Tancredi, he bobs like a cork on the wave of the future. His philosophy, as he explains it to his uncle, is simple: If people like he and his uncle do not join in the cause, the rebels will form a republic; thus, if the princes do not want real change, they must help the rebels to make change. Tancredi fights with Garibaldi in the hills, takes a commission in the Piedmontese army before Garibaldi and his ragged followers are defeated by il galantuomo’s troops at Aspromonti, and, to recoup his family fortunes, courts and marries the beautiful daughter of a rich, vulgar provincial upstart.
(The entire section is 1021 words.)