My recent review of Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa's "The Leopard" generated this comment from reader Francesco Macri (FM) in which he mentions his own translation of the book. According to Macri, Archibald Colquhoun 's (AC) translation, the version I reviewed, does not quite capture the Sicilian nuances of Lampedusa's original writing. Upon my request, Mr. Macri has sent along his own translation of the two excerpts I have quoted in my review. I am posting the passages one after the other for readers to view - the AC translation is in italics.
'You're a gentleman, Chevalley, and I consider it a privilege to have met you; you are right in all you say; your only mistake was saying "the Sicilians must want to improve." I'll tell you a personal anecdote. Two or three days beforeGaribaldi entered Palermo I was introduced to some British naval officers from one of the warships then in harbour to keep an eye on things. They had heard, I don't know how, that I own a house down on the shore facing the sea, with a terrace on its roof from which can be seen the whole circle of hills around the city; they asked to visit this house of mine and look at the landscape where Garibaldini were said to be operating, as they could get no clear idea from their ships. In fact Garibaldi wasalready at Gibilrossa. They came to my house, I accompanied them up on to the roof; they were simple youths in spite of their reddish whiskers. They were ecstatic about the view, the vehemence of the light; they confessed, though, that they had been horrified at the squalor, decay, filth of the streets around. I didn't explain to them that one thing was derived from the other, as I have tried to with you. Then one of them asked me what those Italian volunteers were really coming to do in Sicily. "They are coming to teach us good manners!" I replied in English. "But they won't succeed, because we are gods."
'I don't think they understood, but they laughed and went off.That is my answer to you too, my dear Chevalley; the Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect; their vanity is stronger than their misery; every invasion by outsiders, whether so by origin or, if Sicilian, by independence of spirit, upsets their illusion of achieved perfection, risks disturbing their satisfied waiting for nothing; having been trampled on by a dozen different peoples, they think they have an imperial past which gives them a right to a grand funeral.
'Do you really think, Chevalley, that you are the first who has hoped to canalise Sicily into the flow of universal history? I wonder how many Moslem Imams, how many of King Roger’s knights, how many Swabian scribes, how many Angevin barons, how many jurists of the Most Catholic King have conceived the same fine folly; and how many Spanish viceroys too, how many of Charles III’s reforming functionaries! And who knows now what happened to them all! Sicily wanted to sleep in spite of their invocations; for why should she listen to them if she herself is rich, if she’s wise, if she’s civilized, if she’s honest, if she’s admired and envied by all, if, in a word, she is perfect? [AC]
“You’re a gentleman, Chevalley, and I consider it my good fortune to have met you. You’re right about everything and mistaken only when you said, ‘Sicilians want to become better’. Let me tell you a personal anecdote. Two or three days before Garibaldi entered Palermo, some officers of the English Royal Navy were introduced to me; they were serving as observers on ships at anchor to witness what was happening. Somehow, they found out I possess a house at the waterfront facing the sea, with a terrace on top that had a view of the circle of hills surrounding the city. They asked if they could come to observe the panorama where the Garibaldini were supposed to be circulating and which they could not see from their ships. They came to the house; I went up to the top with them, strapping young lads, naïve despite the bushiness of their reddish whiskers. They were entranced by the panorama, by the iridescence of the light; however, they confessed to having been horrified by the squalor, the decrepitude and the filth of the streets on the way up. I didn’t explain to them, as I’ve tried to do for you, that the one led to the other. One of the officers then asked me, what did the Italian volunteers really come to do in Sicily? I answered in English: ‘They are coming to teach us good manners but won’t succeed because we’re gods!’
I don’t think they understood, but they laughed and then left. And so, dear Chevalley, I give you the same answer: Sicilians don’t ever want to be better for the simple reason that they believe they are perfect – their vanity is greater than their misfortune. Every incursion, whether originating from outside or, if Sicilian from some independence of mind, upsets the delirium of their perceived wholeness and runs the risk of disturbing their contented expectation of oblivion. Trod upon by a dozen or so foreign peoples, they believe in an imperial past that gives them a right to grandiose funerals.
Do you really think, Chevalley, that you’re the first to believe you can channel Sicily into the flow of world history? Who knows how many Moslem Imams, how many of King Roger’s Norman knights, how many Swabian scribes, how many barons of Anjou, how many papal jurists of his Most Catholic Majesty have conceived the same beautiful folly – not to mention how many viceroys of Spain, how many reforming functionaries of Charles III and who knows how many others? Sicily has wanted to sleep inspite of their command to do otherwise. Why should it listen to them if it’s rich, wise, honest and admired by all, envied by all – in a word, if it’s perfect? [FM]
'I, Excellency, voted "no". "No", a hundred times "no". I know what you told me: necessity, unity, expediency. You may be right; I know nothing of politics. Such things I leave to others. But Ciccio Tumeo is honest, poor though he may be, with his trousers in holes' (and he slapped the carefully mended patches on the buttocks of his shooting breeches) 'and I don't forget favours done me! Those swines in the Town Hall just swallowed up my opinion, chewed it and then spat it out transformed as they wanted. I said black and they made me say white. The one time when I could say what I thought that bloodsucker Sedara went and annulled it, behaved as if I'd never existed, as If I never meant a thing, me, Francesco Tumeo La Manna son of the late Leonardo, organist of the Mother Church at Donnafugata, a better man than he is! To think I'd even dedicated to him a mazurka composed by me at the birth of that...' (he bit a finger to rein himself in) 'that mincing daughter of his!'
At this point calm descended on Don Fabrizio, who had finally solved the enigma; now he knew who had been killed at Donnafugata, at a hundred other places, in the course of that night of dirty wind: a new-born babe: good faith; just the very child who should have been cared for most, whose strengthening would have justified all the silly vandalisms. Don Ciccio's negative vote, fifty similar votes at Donnafugata, a hundred thousand 'no's' in the whole Kingdom, would have had no effect on the result, have made it, in fact, if anything more significant; and this maiming of souls would have been avoided. Six months before they used to hear a rough despotic voice saying: 'Do what I say or you're for it!' Now there was already an impression of such a threat being replaced by a money-lender's soapy tones: 'But you signed it yourself, didn't you? Can't you see? It's quite clear. You must do as we say, for here are the IOU's; your will is identical with mine.' [AC]
“Me, Excellency, I voted ‘No’. ‘No’, and a hundred times, ‘No’. I remembered what you told me about necessity, pointlessness, unity and opportunity. You are right, but I have no idea of politics, I leave that to others. But Ciccio Tumeo is an honest man, poor and miserable with holes in his pants”, here he slapped the patches on the rump of his hunting britches.
“And the benefice given to me hasn’t been forgotten, and those pigs down at the Town Hall have swallowed my opinion after chewing it up to shit it out transformed the way they want. I said black, and they make it white! The one time I’m allowed to say what I think, that bloodsucker Sedara cancels me out, as if I had never existed, as if I was nothing mixed with nobody, me, Francesco Tumeo La Manna, son of Leonardo, organist at the Mother Church of Donnafugata, his superior a thousand times over, who dedicated to him a mazurka composed for the birth of that,” he bit his finger to stop himself, “that wheedling daughter of his!”
Calmness descended upon Don Fabrizio at that moment and finally dissolved the enigma – now he knew what had been strangled in Donnafugata and in a hundred other places during that night of foul wind: Good Faith newly born. The very same little creature that needed to be cared for, and whose growth would have motivated even more useless and stupid vandalism. Don Ciccio’s negative vote together with 50 of the same in Donnafugata and a thousand ‘No’s’ in the whole Kingdom would not have changed the results at all; in fact, they would have made them even more significant and have avoided the hobbling of souls. Six months earlier, the voice of despotism could still say, “Do as I say or you’ll pay for it.” Now, one already had the impression that the threat had been replaced by the mushy words of the moneylender: “But didn’t you sign it yourself? Can’t you see it? It’s very clear! Here’s the promissory note, you must do as we ask. We want only what you want.” [FM]
Translation of G. Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Italian novel
(dattiloscritto di 1957, 69/84ma ed. 1993/2004 Feltrinelli)
This identifies the Italian original I used. The typescript of 1957 is now considered the definitive version. AC's translation, 1960, comes from the first edition, edited by another writer, Giorgio Bassani, which was published incomplete in 1958 despite the existence of the "complete" version in the 1957 typescript which Bassani had also examined. All this info is in the intro to the Italian version written in 1969 by the nephew and adopted son, Giaocchino Lanza Tomasi. _ _ Francesco Macri