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T he art of politics is an Italian invention - politics as a self-conscious way of acting and thinking. In his work, Il Principe The Prince , Machiavelli created a monster that has haunted politics ever since.
For centuries the author and his Prince were seen as antichrists and early editions of The Prince in English come with notes piously refuting his cynicism.
Even today, the description Machiavellian is routinely used to denote any form of political action that challenges our quaint notions of good faith and moral authenticity. Machiavelli's Prince is not a practical advice manual aimed at any specific individual - rather it creates a fantastic creature, a kind of armoured colossus bestriding and in Machiavelli's precocious dream, uniting Italy. Machiavelli was a dramatist - his Mandragola is the one Italian Renaissance comedy that can still raise laughs - and the Machiavel was to become a type on the Jacobean stage.
This is central to his achievement. The ever-thoughtful, ever-ruthless political anti-hero who strides and feints through the pages of The Prince is precisely and potently, as the Marxist Antonio Gramsci recognised, mythic.
In Machiavelli's fictive masterpiece, said Gramsci, "political ideology and political science are fused in the dramatic form of a 'myth'. It would be asking too much of Italian literature to produce a second such political myth. But this is what happened when, in , Feltrinelli Editore in Milan brought out a novel by an obscure Palermitan aristocrat who had died the year before. It possesses the descriptive and analytic power not simply of one of the most beguiling 20th-century novels but one of the modern world's definitive political fictions.
Lampedusa's irresistible creation, the Prince of Salina, a physical giant of a man who unconsciously bends cutlery and crushes ornaments when he is in a dark mood, is a Prince as seductive as Machiavelli's. Against all our prejudices, we empathise with his subtle, undeceived and fatalistic attempts to preserve his family's virtually feudal power at the time of the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, in The Leopard's dictum that "everything must change so that everything can stay the same" has become an ironic historical maxim quoted again and again to describe Sicily, Italy, the nature of history and the resourceful ways of power.
Open any book on subjects from the Mafia The Godfather is in many ways a popularisation of The Leopard to the failure of the revolutions in Europe and you will probably find that quote. In Italy and its Discontents , Paul Ginsborg argues that for the first time, the phrase no longer applies to Italy; with the decline of the industrial working class "the mids were precisely the moment when everything began to change and not, pace Tomasi di Lampedusa, to stay the same".
Where Machiavelli created a myth of action, of the bold ruler who violently tames Fortune, Lampedusa's Sicilian Prince believes the opposite: that we are the prisoners of history, of place, of custom, even of climate, and that the most you can hope to do is maintain what you have by playing along with history. Lampedusa's sense of history is double: there are events, but these events are somehow illusory, superficial, and behind them, below them, the deep habits of power, subordination, and corruption abide.
But where is this true - in Sicily, in Italy, or everywhere? Lampedusa's book has become a morbidly seductive guidebook to the island, its glamour and despair; the sensual revelling in decrepit palaces, burnt landscapes studded with temples, sugary pasticceria Lampedusa spent a lot of time in cake shops and the magnificent ball in a gilded Palermo salon that is so gloriously visualised in Visconti's just re-released film of the book, make you breathe Sicily.
In Leonardo Sciascia's novel The Day of the Owl, the first book to systematically describe the reality of the Sicilian Mafia and portray it as a comprehensive crisis of the body politic, an idealistic policeman from Parma in northern Italy who wants to show his knowledge of Sicily loves "passing Sicilian literature in review from Verga to The Leopard".
He takes Lampedusa's word as anthropological truth, as well as - in a novel that appeared just three years after The Leopard - placing it on a par with Giovanni Verga, the great 19th-century verismo writer whose Cavalleria Rusticana was turned into an opera by Mascagni in Lampedusa set his novel at the exact historical moment when Sicily came into direct contact with the forward movement of history, the history of nations, or progress, of democracy and social justice.
On May 11 Garibaldi and his volunteer army, the Thousand, landed at Marsala on Sicily's west coast, aiming to kickstart a revolution in the south the Bourbon kingdom, the Two Sicilies, included Sicily and Naples , to widen the movement for national unification that was spearheaded by Piedmont in the north, and to march on Rome.
The decisive act in Italian unification happened, implausibly, in Sicily. Garibaldi is always offstage in The Leopard, as are the battles, demonstrations and marches. We are shut in a cool palace with the Prince as he wonders what to do, making choices that are both brilliant - publicly approving of the "revolution", marrying his ambitious but penniless nephew Tancredi to a nouveau riche beauty, but refusing the offer of a seat in the new national Senate - and in the long term pointless.
In the long term, his class is doomed. From our distanced, ironic perspective - The Leopard is also an amateur astronomer and his view of events is telescopically cold and precise - we see the almost instant disillusion with what begins as a noble enterprise.
Like the Italian medieval battles Machiavelli scorned for their lack of casualties or significance, the struggle for Sicily is not much of a struggle.
The initial talk of revolution fades, and Tancredi, who begins as a follower of Garibaldi, becomes a regular officer in the army of the Piedmontese, expressing contempt for the red-shirted Garibaldi rabble. The Prince of Salina chats at a ball to the Piedmontese officer responsible for shooting Garibaldi in the foot in order to remove his subversive presence from what was becoming an ordered and conservative Risorgimento.
Perhaps it is not surprising, given its concentration on class as a social and cultural force, that some of The Leopard's most dedicated fans have been Marxists. Gramsci had seen the problem of the backward, non-industrialised south as fundamental to modern Italian history. The Marxist and aristocratic film director Luchino Visconti was already fascinated by the themes of The Leopard before he came to film it, indeed, before it was published.
Visconti's La Terra Trema, a neo-realist lament for Sicilian fishermen filmed with the people of Aci Trezza on the island's east coast beneath Etna, analyses the problems of Sicily not in dogmatically Marxist terms: the fishermen are systematically robbed by middlemen whose corrupt practices are clearly mafia-like. His film Senso, based on Camillo Boito's short story anticipates The Leopard in setting the sensual, hedonist desires of people left behind by history against the idealism and squalor of the Risorgimento.
However, if Visconti seems in so many ways to have been perfect to film The Leopard - and he made one of the most ravishing films ever, the greatest adaptation of a novel with the possible exception of the same director's Death in Venice - Visconti's view of history is slightly different from Lampedusa's.
Visconti's Prince of Salina makes a class alliance so that everything can stay the same; the Marxist dimension of the story is key. But this isn't how Lampedusa told it. Just as Machiavelli's Prince is a rich concoction that does not resolve itself into a "theory", still less ideologies, of left or right, Lampedusa's myth is not rational.
Or Marxist. In his most forthright speech, Lampedusa's Prince says what he really thinks; and it is stranger than anyone could have expected. In trying to explain to a Piedmontese envoy why he will not join their Senate, the Prince specifically rejects the idea that feudal class structures and a backward mode of production explain what is wrong with Sicily; people have told him this is the theory of "some German Jew whose name I can't remember".
Because there has been feudalism everywhere, Sicily is more peculiar and perturbing than that. It is the centuries of invasions, the landscape and climate that have crushed ambition and hope. All these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind. Lampedusa's Sicily is a place where the optimistic, progressive, rational forces of history as viewed in the 19th century - the march of liberal democracy and of socialism alike - get lost in baroque back streets at midnight.
As a myth, as a fiction of history, The Leopard will continue to ensnare minds, and not only in Italy. Lampedusa's despair is not so different from that of today's world, with its shrunken political expectations.
We are all Sicilians now. Topics Books. Classics Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa features. Reuse this content. Most popular.
Essay: Lampedusa's 'The Leopard,' fifty years on
In the ruins of a world that no longer exists, it is his novel—and his life—we have gathered to discuss. The dining room faces out onto a terrace where unruly flora languish under an unrelenting summer sun. The afternoon light feels as heavy as olive oil as it streams into the grand rococo salons of the house, filled as they are with Murano chandeliers, frescoed walls, and dusty sofas the fading, perfectly primped cushions of which have clearly not seen a derriere in decades. There is something unsettling about the Palazzo Lanza Tomasi: The house is both the home of a living, very contemporary couple and a monument to an impoverished aristocrat who died in having written a nearly perfect novel that defined a generation, although he never lived to see its publication.
The Oldest Money: Inside Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's Sicilian Palazzo
T he art of politics is an Italian invention - politics as a self-conscious way of acting and thinking. In his work, Il Principe The Prince , Machiavelli created a monster that has haunted politics ever since. For centuries the author and his Prince were seen as antichrists and early editions of The Prince in English come with notes piously refuting his cynicism. Even today, the description Machiavellian is routinely used to denote any form of political action that challenges our quaint notions of good faith and moral authenticity. Machiavelli's Prince is not a practical advice manual aimed at any specific individual - rather it creates a fantastic creature, a kind of armoured colossus bestriding and in Machiavelli's precocious dream, uniting Italy. Machiavelli was a dramatist - his Mandragola is the one Italian Renaissance comedy that can still raise laughs - and the Machiavel was to become a type on the Jacobean stage.
A place in the sun
Published posthumously in by Feltrinelli , after two rejections by the leading Italian publishing houses Mondadori and Einaudi , it became the top-selling novel in Italian history [ citation needed ] and is considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature. In , it won Italy's highest award for fiction, the Strega Prize. Tomasi was the last in a line of minor princes in Sicily , and he had long contemplated writing a historical novel based on his great-grandfather, Don Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi, another Prince of Lampedusa. After the Lampedusa palace near Palermo was bombed and pillaged during the Allied invasion of Sicily , Tomasi sank into a lengthy depression, and began to write Il Gattopardo as a way to combat it. Despite being universally known in English as The Leopard , the original title Il Gattopardo actually refers to a serval , a much smaller animal. Although uncommon north of the Sahara Desert , one of the serval's few North African ranges is quite near Lampedusa.