Extracts from The Leopard by Lampedusa

MARCH 4, 2005

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, translated by Archibald Colquhoun, [Harvill 1996]. An extraordinary work, short, but all the closer to perfection for that. The withering of nobility, the decline of the House of Salina despite its bitter compromise with a new age, the ache of nostalgia and dissatisfaction of the Prince all intertwine, and together with the endless details of place and person, of phrase and mood combine to entirely captivate us as we move spellbound through this world conjured from the regrets and tumults of a half-forgotten past.

Love. Of course, love. Flames for a year, ashes for thirty. He knew what love was ... Anyway, Tancredi would always find women falling for him like ripe pears. [p.49, The Prince musing on Tancredi's match with Angelica]

.... he would give a carefully considered account of what he knew, taking care, hwoever, to present a well-arranged little bouquet of news from which his cautious tweezers had extracted both thorns .... and premature buds [p. 65 The Prince's distillation of letters from Tancredi for the benefit of Signorina Angelica]

Don Fabrizio had always like Don Ciccio, partly because of the compassion inspired in him by all who from youth had thought of themselves as dedicated to the Arts, and in old age, realising that they had no talent, still carried on the same activity at lower levels, pocketing withered dreams .... [p. 79]

The thought of any possible marriage between a Prince of Falconeri and a granddaughter of Peppe 'Mmerda' did not even cross the minds of these country folk, who thus rendered to feudal families a homage equivalent to that rendered by a blasphemer to God. [p.83]

Anyone deducing from this attitude of Angelica that she loved Tancredi would have been mistaken; she had too much pride and too much ambition to be capable of that annihilation, however temporary, of one's own personality without which there is no love; ... [p. 97-98]

So the pair spent those days in dreamy wanderings, in the discovery of of hells redeemed by love, of forgotten paradises profaned by love itself. The dangers of stopping the game and drawing the prize became more and more pressing for both; in the end they searched no longer, but went off absorbed into the remotest rooms, those from which no cry could reach anyone form the outside world. But there never would be a cry; only invocations and low whimpers. There they would both lie, close but innocent, pitying each other. .....

Those were the best days in the lives of Tancredi and Angelica, lives later to be so variegated, so erring, against he inevitable background of sorrow. But of that they were still unaware, in their pursuit of a future which they deemed more concrete than it turned out to be, made of nothing more than smoke and wind. When they were old and uselessly wise their thoughts would go back to those days with insistent regret; they had been days when desire was always present because always overcome, when many beds had been offered and refused, when the sensual urge, because restrained, had for one second been sublimated in renunciation, that is in real love. Those days were the preparation for a marriage which, even erotically, was no success; a preparation, however, in a way sufficient to itself, exquisite and brief; like those overtures which outlive the forgotten operas they belong to and hint in delicate veiled gaiety at all the arias which later are to be developed undeftly, and fail. [pp. 111-112 with minor change to translation in last sentence]

And what is more, as you must have realised by now, I am without illusions; what would the Senate do with me, an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for anyone wanting to guide others? We of our generation must draw aside and watch the capers and the somersaults of the young around the ornate catafalque. Now you need young men, bright young men, with minds asking 'how' rather than 'why', and who are good at masking, at blending I should say, their obvious personal interests with vague public ideals. [p.125 The Prince rejecting the invitation to become a member of the Senate by the Secretary of the Prefecture (and representative of the new Government) Chevalley di Monterzuolo]