In The Leopard, the prince embraces Angelica at the moment of her engagement to his nephew Tancredi, 'and he felt as if by those kisses he were taking possession of Sicily once more, of the lovely faithless land which now ... had surrendered to him again, as always to his family, its carnal delights and golden crops.' Though the prince's personal powers are never in question in the novel, his creator is mindful, at the moment of that embrace, of his hero as the representative of family and its ancient rights of possession. Lampedusa was not stirred by people as much as by things, by what Sicilian peasants in the stories of his compatriots, Verga and Pirandello, called la roba, a word encompassing everything a man was worth, from the land itself to the least stick and stone on it. For Lampedusa, the monkeys on a painted wall, the sachet of sweet-smelling bran releasing its fragrance into the bath, a set of English razors, or 'the stony hills and fields of mown corn, yellow as the manes of lions' were indeed good. From such material detail, rather than any incidents of moment, from the conflict between dispossession and prestige, rather than new loves or old, the character of The Leopard's originator emerges in David Gilmour's entertaining and astute biography. There is at times, but only at times, an excess of reserve - caught from his subject's own fastidiousness?
LRB 5 January 1989 | PDF Download