Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although he and his wife adopted a son late in their lives, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa realized that he was essentially the final member of his line. He had grown up in an atmosphere of faded splendor and had lived to see the destruction of a way of life that generations had taken for granted. Although he never had to earn a living, he seems to have felt a need to sum up not only his personal and familial experience but also that of Sicily itself. The Leopard constitutes his most comprehensive literary statement, and although it engendered considerable controversy upon its publication, it has since been recognized as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (toh-MAH-see dee lahm-pay-DEW-zah) was born into an aristocratic Sicilian family in 1896. He traveled widely and spent some years in London and Paris, but he lived most of his life in a decaying family palace in Palermo.{$S[A]Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi di;Tomasi di Lampedusa, Giuseppe}

At his father’s behest, Lampedusa studied law and prepared to enter the diplomatic corps, but his university career was interrupted when he was called up for duty in the Italian army in 1915. He was captured and served time in an Austro-Hungarian prison camp, from which he eventually escaped. In 1932 he married the Latvian psychoanalyst Alexandra Wolff-Stormersee and in 1956 adopted a son, Gioacchino Lanza, who would carry on his title.

Lampedusa wrote a number of essays that demonstrate a profound knowledge of French and English literature, but he published very little during his lifetime; among his papers were found essays on Stendhal, Prosper Mérimée, and Gustave Flaubert. He first appeared on the literary scene in 1954 at a literary congress with his cousin, the Sicilian poet Luigi Piccolo. Years earlier he had expressed the intention of writing a novel based on the life of his great-grandfather, who had been an astronomer and mathematician. In this book he wanted to set the biography of his grandfather among the historical events that had affected his family and the Sicilian people while expressing his own emotions and ideas with regard to himself, his family, and history.

On his return from the congress, at the age of sixty and feeling death to be near, Lampedusa began writing his novel. Finishing it in 1956, he submitted the manuscript to publishers who were, unfortunately, bound to find his view of history pessimistic and reactionary. One letter of rejection from a prominent Italian novelist employed as a publisher’s reader reached Lampedusa as he lay dying of lung cancer.

Another novelist, Giorgio Bassani, received the manuscript of The Leopard from a friend. Amazed that such a book should be written by an unknown writer, Bassani perceived its value immediately and telephoned Palermo to speak to Lampedusa, only to learn that he had died. The Leopard was published the following year, to international acclaim.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Giuseppe Tomasi, duke of Palma and prince of Lampedusa, was born into the Sicilian aristocracy described in his novel. During his childhood and youth, the family retained much of its wealth and prestige; Lampedusa led the privileged existence of a noble scion, being the last male descendant of an ancient line. His time was divided between the country estate and the great house in Palermo, both of which are lovingly treated in his memoirs and provide the models for the princely dwellings in The Leopard. The young noble’s schooling was private, in keeping with aristocratic tradition, and stressed the humanities and a refined cultural sensibility. He read voluminously and avidly, aided by his knowledge of a variety of languages and his firsthand acquaintance with other cultures.

It was a relatively uneventful existence: artillery service in World War I, followed by two escapes from prisoner-of-war camps; a law degree from the University of Torino, which was never put to use; numerous trips abroad, during which he met his future wife, the Baltic baroness Alexandra Wolff-Stomersee, a noted psychoanalyst; military service as a captain in World War II; the destruction of his beloved house and library by Allied bombs; the lessons on English and French literature; and the adoption of Gioacchino Lanza, one of his pupils, late in life—the young man served as the model for the character of Tancredi in The Leopard. It was a quiet existence,...

(The entire section is 440 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (toh-MAH-see dee lahm-puh-DEW-suh) was born on December 23, 1876, into an impoverished, aristocratic Sicilian family of ancient if generally undistinguished lineage. Lampedusa’s great-grandfather, an amateur astronomer of some note, was an exception to this pattern. However, his failure to leave a will at the time of his death plunged his descendants into a ruinous cycle of legal claims and counterclaims that scattered what little remained of the family fortune. It is this intriguing figure, Prince Giulio Tomasi, who would serve Lampedusa as the model for Prince Fabrizio Corbera in his novel Il gattopardo (1958; The Leopard, 1960).

Lampedusa was a shy, unathletic child who preferred his own company to that of others. He spent most of his early years in the family palace in the Sicilian city of Palermo and retained vivid sensory memories of it and his family’s properties in the countryside. According to Lampedusa’s biographer David Gilmour, the major influence in his life seems to have been his mother, a talented, attractive woman who figured prominently in Palermo’s smart society.

Lampedusa’s father hoped that his son would become a diplomat. As a result, the young man attended school in Rome, but with Italy’s entry into World War I in 1915, his university career was interrupted. Drafted for military service late that year, Lampedusa served in the artillery and saw active service in 1917 against Austria. He was wounded and captured shortly afterward, but managed to escape.

After the war Lampedusa suffered from a variety of illnesses, some apparently psychosomatic, and abandoned his law studies. He seems to have grown disillusioned with Sicily, and over the next few years he...

(The entire section is 723 words.)