The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Arion Press (2014)

{Ed. Note: Much of the text describing the story is taken from an earlier Books and Vines review of the same story, in that instance from an edition from the Limited Editions Club.}

Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard is considered one of the most important Italian novels ever written, in addition to being the top-selling novel in Italian history. It is certainly one of the greatest historical  novels in world literature, and along with another great Italian work, The Betrothed, really is a  ‘must read’ for anyone considering themselves well read and/or for those wanting a real feel for the soul of Italy. Opening in May 1860 the story takes place during the social upheaval around the time of the  Risorgimentothe class system was collapsing and the upper classes were having to adjust or wither away. The Leopard follows the Sicilian nobleman Don Fabrizio and his family as they are swept up in these changes. The book is based on Lampedusa’s great-grandfather, Don Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi, a Prince of Lampedusa.

The theme of inevitability of change and societal impact of such, for better and worse, is predominant and runs throughout the book. In the famous words spoken by Tancredi to Don Fabrizio, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”  Fabrizio understands that change cannot be stopped, and is powerless to influence it.  I belong to an unfortunate generation, swung between the old world and the new, and I find myself ill at ease in both. The book perfectly draws a picture of this evolution and its impact on nobles, the clergy and the everyman. It also highlights the inevitable uselessness of war and strife that often accompanies such change.

Dying for somebody or for something, that was positively normal, of course; but the person dying should know, or at least feel sure, that someone knows for whom or for what he is dying…

Despite the idealism of the uprising, some things always stay the same, one being the workings of politicians, at least those of the populist stripe.

Many problems that had seemed insoluble to the prince were resoled in a trice by Don Calogero; free as he was from the shackles imposed on many other men by honesty, decency, and plain good manners, he moved through the jungle of life with the confidence of an elephant which advances in a straight line, rooting up trees and trampling down lairs, without even noticing scratches of thorns and moans from the crushed.

Falling under the banner of realism, the books seemingly conservative themes, particularly showing some positive aspects of tradition and the aristocratic class system that had dominated Italian politics for centuries, produced some backlash from Neo-realists, Marxists and Socialists. As you can see from the following quotes, Lampedusa certainly had some respect for what nobility did provide to society.

For the significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions, that is in its vital memories…

and

…it’s differences of attitude, not estates and feudal rights, which make a noble.

Some of these traditions and attitudes had been extremely helpful to those less fortunate, and, if nothing else, provided stability and a way of life. Yet, in reality, and as shown in the book, the clergy and nobility often did not live up to such standards. In fact, Lampedusa’s depiction of nobles and clergy offended conservatives by what they saw as an overly negative portrait. Regardless of giving political offense to those seeking it (left and right), mortality and decay are at the forefront of the novel, as we witness Don Fabrizio aging towards an ultimate death as the society he inhabits disintegrates around him. His own decay and death symbolizes the end of what was and points to a new future. Whether that future is a good one or not is unknown; the only forgone conclusion is that time marches forward and transforms all it touches.

Lastly, as with most great novels, the theme of love plays a part. The hope, the disappointment…

Love. Of course, love. Flames for a year, ashes for thirty.

And from where ‘love’ is born, often under mistaken identity:

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 it was 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 into real love.

Interestingly, The Leopard is Lampedusa’s only novel and it was first published posthumously in 1958. Lampedusa (1896-1957) submitted the completed novel to two publishers before his death, both rejected it. Once published, it quickly became clear that it was a great work.  Lampedusa was posthumously awarded the Strega Prize in 1959. In 1963, the book was made into a film by Lucchino Visconti which which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A review of this excellent movie, one of the greatest films of world cinema, was written by Books and Vines guest contributor Robert Bailey here. As mentioned in the Arion Press prospectus, eminent film historian David Thomson writes that:

Lucchino Visconti’s movie of The Leopard is more than fifty years old, and a monument to another age—not just in recapturing the Sicilian aristocracy of the nineteenth century, but as a three-hour spectacle on 70mm film in Technicolor. So it is a tribute to two past ages. As shot by Giuseppe Rotunno, designed by Mario Garbuglia, and with costumes by Piero Tosi, the ravishing picture is itself like a tourist destination, a thing to explore and marvel at. Its influence on other film-makers was enormous—one cannot imagine The Godfather without it. Visconti was a man of contradictions—a Count and a Marxist—but his version of The Leopard is a testament to an age when the screen was meant to be large, rich, and a cultural landmark.

It is from the set of this film that Arion Press decided to illustrate their fine new edition of The Leopard. Arion Press tells us that:

During the filming of The Leopard, a photographer named Giovan Battista Poletto took color photographs on the set. His images are not identical to those in the motion picture Il Gattopardo but show the main characters and key incidents played out at the legendary locations in Sicily. Out of the many photographs taken by Poletto, thirty-two were chosen, to appear throughout the book in proximity to the action, with identifying captions.

These illustrations form the centerpiece of this edition. The color photographs were printed by offset lithography, and the reproduction quality is very high (see examples below). Using photographs to illustrate a novel can sometimes be difficult to pull off as their representations may be too literal, conflicting with the readers own mental images of what the author describes to them. In this case, probably because the movie itself so perfectly intertwines with my reading of the novel (any differences not withstanding), the photographs work well and, in fact, probably work better than any other narrative representations that could have been made since any such representations would have been measured against the movie imagery. Perhaps this is why the beautiful Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition did not use illustrations (beyond the mysterious frontispiece).

Like the LEC edition, the Arion Press edition uses the translation by Archibald Colquhoun. Arion Press includes a foreword and appendix by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, who is the novelist’s adopted son and literary executor. In the prospectus for this edition, Arion Press tells us that:

The young Gioacchino was Lampedusa’s model for the manner and appearance, but not the character, of the romantic figure Tancredi in the novel. As Lampedusa’s heir, he was very helpful in the publication of this edition. In 2013, Gioacchino and his wife Nicoletta welcomed publisher Andrew Hoyem and his wife and senior editor Diana Ketcham into their home in Palermo, the palazzo that was Lampedusa’s last residence, containing his library and other artifacts of his writing life. Lanza Tomasi also referred us to the agency in Rome that licenses the photographs that are the book’s illustrations.

The text type is Neo Didot, composed and cast on the Monotype by Mackenzie & Harris, printed in black. The display type is Narciss, handset, printed in color. The type was printed by letterpress on a Miller two-color cylinder press on Mohawk Superfine paper. The binding shows a coat of arms from Lampedusa’s ancestors in the early eighteenth century with a leaping leopard. The book is large octavo in format, 9-5/16 by 6-11/16 inches, with 288 pages. It is limited to 300 copies.

About the Edition

  • Foreword and appendix by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi (the novelist’s adopted son and literary executor); foreword/appendix translated by Guido Waldman
  • With 32 photographs in color by Giovan Battista Poletto, taken on the set of the 1963 motion picture directed by Lucchino Visconti
  • Translated from the Italian by Archibald Colquhoun
  • The text type is Neo Didot, composed and cast on the Monotype by Mackenzie & Harris, printed in black
  • The display type is Narciss, handset, printed in color
  • The type was printed by letterpress on a Miller two-color cylinder press
  • The color photographs were printed by offset lithography, brokered by Susan Schaefer
  • The paper is Mohawk Superfine
  • The binding shows a coat of arms from Lampedusa’s ancestors in the early eighteenth century with a leaping leopard
  • The book is large octavo in format, 9-5/16 by 6-11/16 inches, 288 pages
  • The edition is limited to 300 copies for sale

Pictures of the Edition

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The Leopard, Arion Press, Book in Slipcase
The Leopard, Arion Press, Book in Slipcase
The Leopard, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
The Leopard, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
The Leopard, Arion Press, Spine Macro
The Leopard, Arion Press, Spine Macro
The Leopard, Arion Press, Front Cover
The Leopard, Arion Press, Front Cover
The Leopard, Arion Press, Cover Macro
The Leopard, Arion Press, Cover Macro
The Leopard, Arion Press, Side Macro
The Leopard, Arion Press, Side Macro
The Leopard, Arion Press, Frontispiece (taken by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi in 1955) and Title Page
The Leopard, Arion Press, Frontispiece (taken by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi in 1955) and Title Page
The Leopard, Arion Press, Macro of Title Page
The Leopard, Arion Press, Macro of Title Page
The Leopard, Arion Press, Copyrights
The Leopard, Arion Press, Copyrights
The Leopard, Arion Press, Contents
The Leopard, Arion Press, Contents
The Leopard, Arion Press, Preface
The Leopard, Arion Press, Foreword
The Leopard, Arion Press, Macro of Foreword
The Leopard, Arion Press, Macro of Foreword
The Leopard, Arion Press, List of Photographs
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #1
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #2
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #2
The Leopard, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Text #2
The Leopard, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Text #2
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #1
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #1 with Text
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #3
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #3
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #3
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #3 with Text
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #5
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #4
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #8 with Text
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #4 with Text
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #6
The Leopard, Arion Press, Sample Text #5
The Leopard, Arion Press, Colophon
The Leopard, Arion Press, Colophon

 

5 thoughts on “The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Arion Press (2014)

  1. There is no mention of a slipcase in the book description. Did you have one made? You don’t say if you like the book…. It seem to be a very small size. Michael

    1. Yes, it did come with the slipcase shown standard. And yes, I do like the book! It is not a huge, elaborate edition, but is nice size for reading with excellent set piece photographs. The size is 9-5/16 by 6-11/16 inches.

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