The Leopard, a Novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Book ReviewThe Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Title: The Leopard
Author: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Publisher: Pantheon Books (Paperback), New York (1960)
ISBN-13: 978-0-679-73121-4

Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard follows the life of Sicilian Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, around the time of Garibaldi, mainly 1860–1862. Garibaldi led a minor revolution which the novel portrays as a superficial non-event, except that it served to create an image of change. Don Fabrizio highlights the façade of change in the line “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” (28).

The meaning rings true through the ages—create the illusion of change in government to placate the people in order to ensure the stability of the status quo. People are satisfied by the illusion and go about their business. In fact, the revolution works in favor of the Prince, as he is ultimately unfazed by it, even though a sort of republic replaces a kind of monarchy.

Much of the novel focuses on the personality of the Prince of Salina Don Fabrizio. The Prince’s symbol is the Leopard, hence the title. He is both smart and strong, and sees through the theater of revolution, with the help of his nephew Tancredi. The Prince is disgusted by other cowardly members of the aristocracy for fleeing Sicily.

The novel beautifully captures the noble, the picturesque, and the sordid sides of Sicilian culture and society. As it’s a time of transition, the contrast of old and new plays a major role. The old, cultivated Prince and his Peers live among “faded gold, pale as the hair of Nordic children, determinedly hiding its value under a muted use of precious material intended to let beauty be seen and cost forgotten. Here and there on the panels were knots of rococo flowers in a color so faint as to seem just an ephemeral pink reflected from the chandeliers.” This atmosphere of “solar hue, that variegation of gleam and shade, made Don Fabrizio’s heart ache…” (224).

Conversely, a philistine industrial millionaire in the same room “was standing beside him [the Prince]; his quick eyes were moving over the room, insensible to its charm, intent on its monetary value” (225). The aged beauty of past’s aesthetic subtlety is held in contrast against “the flashy gilding which decorators slap on nowadays” (224).

The contrast is seen in people as well. Gauche ill-mannered youth appeared unbearably giggly, “a populous colony of these creatures had appeared … he felt like a keeper in a zoo set to looking after a hundred female monkeys … loosing a stream of shrieks and grins” (222). By contrast, the few still well-bred young women in the same house remained exquisite—they “glided by like swans over a frog-filled pool” (222).

The nauseating foolishness of cheap revolutions and cheapening culture are countered and alleviated by death. As the death knell tolls for a recently deceased townsman, the Prince observes “Lucky person … while there’s death, there’s hope” (72).

Don Fabrizio makes a lot of observations throughout the novel. Ideas such as “better to bore oneself than to bore others” (233) speak to the culture, where even in light entertainment, one gives rather than receives. Other quotes contrast subtle intelligence versus blustery know-it-alls of the nouveau riche: “a meal in common need not necessarily be all munching and grease stains”; “a conversation may well bear no resemblance to a dog fight; “to give precedence to a woman is a sign of strength and not of weakness”; and “sometimes more can be obtained by saying ‘I haven’t explained myself well’ instead of saying ‘I can’t understand a word’” (137).

After the post-revolution government was settled, they sent an emissary to invite the Prince to join the new Senate. After the emissary’s many attempts at persuasion, the Prince still declined. Senators, like all public officials, must be “good at masking their personal interests with vague public ideals … and clever enough to create illusions when needed” (181). The Prince leaves the government emissary with a parting comment, the famous quote from the novel, “We were the leopards, the lions, those who take our place will be jackals, hyenas” (185). He closes with, “and we’ll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth” (185).

Ultimately, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, changes his feeling towards the young, from disgust, to compassion. “Don Fabrizio felt his heart thaw; his disgust gave way to compassion for all these ephemeral beings out to enjoy the tiny ray of light granted them between two shades, before the cradle, after the last spasms. How could one inveigh against those sure to die?” (226).

The reader experiences the joys, disappointments, victories, and the nausea that bear upon the heart of the Prince—who constantly searches inside himself, questioning the meaning of everything happening around him.

The novel is based on true events in the history of Italy of the 1860s, and the characters are based on real individuals of that time. Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, is the great grandfather of the author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. That fact gives the novel more interest, combining a great novelistic narrative with fascinating history.

The final chapters nicely followup with “how everyone turned out”—a sort of epilogue with the Prince’s eventual death twenty-six years later in 1888, and how his daughters are getting along as late as 1910, therefore spilling over into the lifetime and memory of the author.

The novel is considered a great work of literary art. But just as important, as a reader in 2017, I recommend it as a very entertaining read, with profound observations that speak clearly to today, and with a wealth of universal insights about travelling through life.

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Autobiography of World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal

Book ReviewMikhail Tal
Title: The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal
Author: Mikhail Tal
Publisher: Everyman Chess (London)
Date: 1997, 2015

Mikhail Tal’s autobiography is in the form of an interview, Continue reading

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Patrick Brontë: Man of Sorrow

Book Review
Title: A Man of Sorrow: The Life, Letters and Times of the Rev. Patrick Brontë 1777–1861, 566 pages
Authors: John Lock and Canon W. T. Dixon
Publisher: Ian Hodgkins & Co. LTD, London (1979)
ISBN-13: 978-0906460047

Patrick Brontë

Patrick Brontë was born in Ireland in 1777 and educated at Cambridge where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1806. Later he married Mary Branwell, and had six children. Three of their children became the famous Victorian Authors Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre), Anne Brontë (Tenant of Wildfell Hall), and Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights). Continue reading

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Kant and Critique: New Essays in Honor of W.H. Werkmeister

Book Recommendation
Title: Kant and Critique: New Essays in Honor of W.H. Werkmeister
Author: R.M. Dancy, W.H. Werkmeister, et al.
Publisher: Springer; 1993

Kant and Critique: New Essays in Honor of W.H. Werkmeister

I attended this conference that is commemorated in this volume, where these essays were originally presented, at Professor Werkmeister’s “90th birthday celebration” and conference on April 5, 6, 1991, at Florida State University (I was a grad student in the FSU philosophy dept., and the director of publishing for FSU publications, at the time). Continue reading

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Wright on Wittgenstein

Book Review
Title: Wittgenstein
Author: Georg Henrik von Wright
Published: University of Minnesota Press 1982

 Ludwig Wittgenstein and G. H. von Wright

Ludwig Wittgenstein was G. H. von Wright’s professor, mentor, and friend. After Wittgenstein died in 1951, Wright became literary executor and spent thirty years collecting, compiling, editing, and publishing the works. Wittgenstein wrote a lot, but published very little during his lifetime, so the task of the literary executor was long and painstaking. Upon publishing the complete works in various editions from 1951 to 1981, Wright wrote the present book as a tribute to his friend and mentor. Continue reading

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Lenfest Dontates Newspapers to Nonprofit Journalism Institute

Journalism is near to the heart of most bloggers. I’ve worked as a reporter and as an editor at small newspapers (many years ago). I read lots of online news, in current affairs as well as professional and industry articles in my career areas. But I also still like to receive the Philadelphia Inquirer in my front yard, and read the actual paper paper. Continue reading

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New Year’s Resolution 2016

My New Year’s Resolution is to be more life affirming. To me that means

  • to listen to other people more carefully
  • to respond constructively every time
  • to take nothing and no one for granted
  • to do more and talk less about it
  • to use precious time and energy to create, build, restore, improve, and achieve
  • to apply rigor in professional and personal activities
  • to value and encourage constructive paths in everyone in every situation
  • to greet hardship with solutions in a spirit of rising instead of falling
  • to adapt to change in stride, with the poise of faith and confidence
  • to make fewer mistakes
  • to be grateful every day

Continue reading

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Listen to Communicate

There are a lot of ways to communicate. The best way is to listen.

At least half the time I explain something, the response shows that the other person was not really focused on the explanation, their mind was wandering, they were distracted, or just didn’t think it was important to pay attention. Continue reading

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Desire versus Fantasy

Lots of people talk about their ambitions. Not many fulfill them. Grand ambitions often disappoint, while modest ambitions inspire hope and motivation. Modest ambitions are exceeded much more often than grand ambitions are even come close to. There seems to be an inverse relationship between grandness of ambition and greatness of work effort. Grand ideas = no realistic discipline. Modest ideas = discipline that says, “I can do this.” Continue reading

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Consultant versus Contractor

I recently read a LinkedIn post of an article by QA writer Johanna Rothman, “Differences Between Hiring a Contractor or Consultant.”

People commented that they didn’t get the distinction, or didn’t agree with it. Commenters either said there is no such distinction, or they objected to it as an unfair “class distinction.” This was weird to me, because nothing could be more “standard procedure” than companies using this common parlance. So now I’m writing about it too. Continue reading

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Remote Teams

I have led remote teams, been a member of remote teams, and accomplished several types of projects with remote teams. I will not bore you with another “Top 5 Tips for Remote-Team Success” or “Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid.” You can Google those and get plenty of advice that will be meaningless until you’ve worked a couple of remote team projects. In this post, I just want to talk briefly about how fun it can be. Continue reading

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Happy Minded

One thing I’ve noticed about people over many years, is that the ones who seem happiest, seem happiest no matter what happens to them, good or bad. I’ve seen severe injury and devastating failure happen to them, and terrible tragedy of many kinds. They persistently focus on the good, and on others instead of themselves. Continue reading

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The Honored Guest

With the 4th of July rolling around, here is my tribute to one of our lesser-known Founding Fathers: Thomas Paine. Like a good father, he suggested names for the new baby he was creating. In Common Sense, he used phrases like “United Colonies,” “American states,” and “Free and Independent States of America.” Finally, of course, everyone agreed on “The United States of America.” Continue reading

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The Secret Lives of Codebreakers

Book Review
Title: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers
Author: Sinclair McKay
Published: Penguin Group 2010

Recently I saw the 2014 film The Imitation Game about British Intelligence’s codebreaking of German communications during World War II. The movie was interesting enough that I went straight to Barnes & Noble and bought a book to learn more. I just finished reading The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, which was published a few years before the film came out. Continue reading

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The Education of Henry Adams

Book Review
Title: The Education of Henry Adams
Author: Henry Adams
Published: Modern Library 1931. Originally published 1918. Privately circulated 1907

Last December I wrote about Adams’ earlier work, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, which I recommended for its rich blend of philosophy, legend, architecture, personal observations, and mediæval history. The Education of Henry Adams is also rich in personal observations and history. Continue reading

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The Ides of March

March 15 is remembered as the Ides of March because of the assassination of Roman ruler Julius Caesar.

In B.C. 49 a power struggle divided the Roman Senate. Two influential leaders controlled military forces: Julius Caesar and a man by the name of Pompey. A civil war seemed inevitable. Continue reading

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Charles Dickens 203

Let us take a moment to remember Charles Dickens today, his 203rd Birthday.

When you read novels by Charles Dickens, and then read true accounts of mid-1800s London and look at photographs of the period, you’ll find his descriptions match reality very closely. Continue reading

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Poe 206

Edgar Allan Poe is not considered a top literary figure by many critics. He was considered even less during his lifetime. He was a critic himself, and his creative works did not earn him much of a living. Continue reading

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Resolutions and Exclusions

As part of the New Year tradition, I am posting my Resolution. I am also posting my Exclusions—some popular resolutions that I am not pursuing.

Resolution: My New Year’s Resolution is basically the same every year, and has two parts:

  1. Do more: “Do More” is my ongoing mode of travel through life because challenges are exciting and the more I accomplish the better I like it. Continue reading
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Mont Saint Michel and Chartres

Book Review
Title: Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
Author: Henry Adams
Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (June 3, 1986). Originally published 1904.

Henry Adams toured French mediæval gothic architecture, and apparently took a lot of notes, focusing on the Grande Cathedrals of Mont-Saint-Michel (built in the 1100s) and Chartres (built in the late 1100s to 1200s). The notes became the book. If that were the extent of the book, however, it could be summed with a few nice photos and captions. But there’s also 360 pages of mystery and fascination surrounding the architecture. Continue reading

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