The Leopard (Book Review)

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE LEOPARD concerns the passing of an era. It focuses on the impact of the Risorgimento--the reunification of Italy--on Sicilian society.

Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, recognizes that his class is doomed by its own decadence and by the rude energy of the new order. He knows, too, that the new order, whatever its pretensions, will bring with it no real change for Sicily’s masses. A rapacious middle class will elbow aside the old families, which will succumb to a kind of moral and social entropy.

The symbol of the new order is the marriage between the aristocratic Tancredi, Don Fabrizio’s nephew, and the beautiful Angelica, daughter of the newly rich but vulgar Don Calogero. Rank and pelf come together, but it is “a marriage which, even erotically, was no success.” The calculation on each side dooms the match, and the larger social experiment fares no better. Morally compromised from the start, as one sees in the rigged plebiscite at Donnafugata, the Risorgimento itself is a failure. Rather than ushering in the just society which its apologists proclaim, it merely sets the stage for Fascism half a century later--and perhaps, in time, even Communism.

Lampedusa’s account of the Sicilian aristocracy embattled by an aggressive middle class will appeal to all who enjoy the fictional treatment of the sweep of history. It has affinities with great historical novels such as Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE and Stendhal’s THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA,...

(The entire section is 454 words.)