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« Income numberz from India (prasad) | Main | Five Years of A.B. (Sujatha) »

October 18, 2010


This was made into a movie, starring American Burt Lancaster and released in 1963. You can find "The Leopard" (English version) on NetFlix.

"In this war drama set in 1860s Sicily, Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Burt Lancaster) attempts to hold onto the glory he once knew, while his nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), has joined opposition forces and is being heralded as a war hero. As Falconeri begins to fall for Angelica (Claudia Cardinale), the daughter of the town's new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa), Salina must learn to accept his changing political status."

Loved the book, loved the movie, love the review! Thank you! I don't read literary Italian well enough to have tackled it in that language. People who know say it's very hard to read, an intense pleasure if your Italian is up to it. Ten years ago, I read it aloud for a few hours to the late Ruth Feldman, an acclaimed translator of contemporary Italian poetry. Her vision was then failing. She said if I had been a perfect reader aloud -- which I am not, even in English -- it would have been very difficult to understand everything. I was too busy trying to pronounce to know. I'm sticking with Colqhoun.

My recall of youthful readings is that the intense ambivalence of Don Fabrizio, and his nihilism, made a thrilling rendering of a Sicilian aristocrat. For a feeling of Sicily, you can't beat this book -- it will come off on your hands. No one can get near it for that. The left can't really claim it, but in the 60s, the left was busier claiming things than now. Lampedusa lived very quietly, avowed almost no politics, studied Shakespeare most of his life. He was married to a Baltic baroness, one of Italy's first psychoanalysts, certainly one of the first women there to be a psychoanalyst. Luigi Barzini, a beloved Italian journalist, interviewed the princess soon after Lampedusa died; she gave him iced coffee with a parcel of cream solidified in paper. A regal and cryptic eccentric. His nephew by adoption has renovated the family palazzo in Palermo. He's a communist, his wife is a Green. They spent a lot on striped upholstery. AB readers interested in current Lampedusiana might read an article of more than 15 years ago in the New Yorker archive, by Fernanda Eberstadt. There's a pretty good bio, _The Last Leopard_, by David Gilmour. It'll put the whole family in context -- oy! About Giuseppe Tommasi, the Prince of Lampedusa, there is much to speculate but little to know, unless you read _The Leopard_. And a story called "The Mermaid" -- enchanting and deep and sexy and sad.

Thanks for the illuminating info, Elatia. I came to this book late in life at the urging of my daughter, as noted. I now plan to see the movie also. I did not know about the film when I was reading the book and somehow did not envision Burt Lancaster as a likely "Leopard." But Lancaster was such a fine actor, I am sure he captured the essence of the man.

As I mention in the review, the novel may not have been the finished product. There are some allusions to future events, particularly involving Tancredi and his luscious wife Angelica that Lampedusa never comes back to elaborate and I thought he would. Do you think that if he'd had the good health and time to expand the story further fleshing out more of the details, we might have caught a glimpse of the perennially invisible peasant mother of Angelica, the wife of the mayor of Donnafugatta?

Ruchira, I am thinking of the reference to Tancredi's marriage to Angelica, amid describing the events in the chapter, "Love at Donnafugata," the authorial voice remarked their future marriage was "not a success, not even sexually." Also, somewhere, a wacky reference to Sigmund Freud and airplanes, if I recall. While marveling at the novel, allowing it to touch me deeply, I lost some patience with it too, until the final chapter, the last image, the deep pathos of it. If I had written anything like that, I would have been frightened to "go back in," as the surgeons say. It would have been enough. God knows what would have happened, had the Prince of Lampedusa had more time to revise.

Those are exactly the references I had in mind, including the airplane and Freud. Which is why in the review I noted his futuristic forays in the midst of a late 19th century tale.

Reading your review, I keep wanting to go get the book, take it out again. It's in deep storage. Shoulda thought harder about that.

It's on my library request list. I'm curious to see how well the flavor of Italian is conveyed through the translation. Some things, alas, will however always remain untranslatable...

Elatia, if you have extracted all this minutiae from deep storage, I am amazed by your memory. I know that I will start forgetting in a year or a few months.

Sujatha, I am glad you plan to read the book. I know your French is excellent. Do you also know Italian?

No, not beyond what I can make out from my background in French. But, assuming that Archibald Colquhoun has not changed the overall phrasing too much from the original, the sense of Italian in translation should come through fairly well, I think.
My French helps me read in the original - I was tackling Marcel Pagnol's Souvenirs d'Enfance the other day. It did strike me that while translations might be available, I would have enjoyed those less than the original, even as I occasionally sat puzzling out the meaning of a word here and there.
As for the flavor of the language coming through, I might have pointed to 'The God of Small Things',except that it is written originally in English. To my mind, I have no doubt that a good portion of it was written while Roy was thinking in Malayalam and twisting her English prose to fit.

Beautiful review, Ruchira. I've been wanting to read this book for quite a while. Now it'll be at the top of my reading list.

This isn't a book I could read these days because it clearly needs dedication, but I will comment on the movie. I saw the English version in India in the 60s and loved it. What was not to love with that deadly combination of art-film, Burt & Alain, and phoren? My tastes have changed over the years, I have grown more critical and impatient, and art no longer impresses of itself.

I saw the Italian version, Il Gattopardo, last year and gave it a one star rating - for "hated it". Without having to watch it again I can't remember why I was so down on the film - just that I found myself yawning at all the prettiness of it, triggered by the extended ballroom scene. For me it added up to why should I care for these people, a pattern I see in most of the director's films. It's a pity that it was made at a time when ALL Italian movies were dubbed (equally in Italian and English), and generally self-indulgent in execution and editing. Lancaster didn't bother to mouth the dialogue in Italian, and I can't recall if Delon did. Now that I am attuned to the sounds of several languages I want to see lips-don't-lie in films, without which the emotional experience is lacking for me.

Too bad too that Visconti got hold of the property; his films may have had useful shock value in his days but now seem merely perverse. Bertolucci, the Tavianis, or Tornatore would have given us a more enduring rendition of the book; their films are memorable for sympathetic portrayals of families in transition, and of characters in the throes of social change and political upheaval, or simply, nostalgia. And surely there were charismatic Italian actors (I'm thinking De Sica, Mastroianni, Gassman) who might have been more convincing than the outsiders Lancaster & Delon, much as I like them in movies in their own vernaculars. Be thankful he didn't pick Dirk Bogarde and Helmut Griem!

Narayan, "The Leopard" wasn't a typical Sicilian in his physical attributes. He was half German (his mother), blue eyed and Teutonic in stature. So a non-Italian actor with non-Latin looks is the right pick to portray him. I just hadn't envisioned Burt Lancaster. As for Alain Delon, I can see him playing Tancredi without a problem.

It's not the appearance that bothered me but their inability to voice or lip-synch Italian. Wouldn't Vittorio Gassman have fit your Teutonic bill? You may recall him from War & Peace. Check him out, in his seventies, reading a menu, the list of ingredients on a food package, a lab test report - it's fun.
What is your idea of Teutonic stature and looks then, as opposed to Italian or Sicilian? Despite the fact that Germanic people have been in Italy for more than two millennium, and that for a millennium it was Germans who controlled the Holy Roman Empire, I think we cling to clear distinctions of physiognomy and regional characteristics. Lampedusa too, if you were quoting him.

Vittorio Gassman would have made a good Leopard, in my opinion, perhaps a bit slender. I have no set opinion of Sicilian physiognomy. I was indeed quoting Lampedusa - the description is his. And he may have worked from an actual account of his ancestor's physical appearance (paintings, photographs) and not any stereotypes of regional charactristics. Remember that the character is based on a real person, not a product of the author's imagination.

If you liked The Leopard and haven't read Stendhal, do so. Lampedusa's style owes a great deal to his French master. Before The Leopard, the greatest novel about 19th-century Italy was The Charterhouse of Parma.

The following comment is from Elatia who tried and couldn't post it.

Anderson, What about Manzoni -- I Promessi Sposi? To my reading, the Charterhouse of Parma was a very French novel set in an imaginary court in Italy, written by a Frenchman who spent more time in Italy than in France. No accident the main character of each was called Fabrizio.

Narayan, Burt Lancaster was an Italophile, spent his last coupla decades in Rome. Better casting could not have been achieved, if you do like the novel. But I'm into Burt... It may be worth noting that Sicily is as full of blondes without signature Southern Mediterranean looks as Milan. It was for centuries a stronghold of the Normans, the Angevins, the Hohenstaufens and the Spanish Bourbons. The largest and the most fruitful Mediterranean island, it was plunder consummate, and the present population shows it. Gassman was aristocratic looking, and a wonderful actor. But the Prince of Salina has virility collapsing to nihilism, Burt's kind of vibe when he had to act really, rather than walk on. I like subtitles best too, btw.

Ruchira, I read it and reread it when I was a kid. That kind of reading stays. But give it time...

Sujatha, I'd love to spot Mayalayam thoughts like that -- very exciting. MORE on how you arrive at that sometime, please!

Pepito, you're in for a great time!

The translation of the original Italian was a rushed job: hurried into print because of the sensation caused by the original. The translator, Archibald Colquhoun, has a good grasp of Italian but no grasp of Sicilian. I first read the novel in translation some 35 years ago and was put off by, not the story but the translation. It did not read like good English prose and the style was "foreign". When I finally got around to reading the original 10 years ago and re-reading it 5 years ago, I decided to translate it on my own, the memory of my first reaction to the English version still vivid in my mind. The task took over a year to accomplish.

The existing translation by AC slavishly follows the syntax of the Italian original: a concatenation of subordinate clauses. There are few if any mistranslations but a few misunderstandings of the original language, and an obvious lack of knowledge of Sicily and its language (Sicilian phrases appear rarely but names appear often.

The point of my translation was to reproduce the novel in good English prose (to make it seems like an original). This does not mean, produce a "version" of the novel but rather to produce a correct English equivalent. Gone are the endless subordinate clauses, rendered more palatable and understandable in separate sentences. Confusions about the original meaning of words, phrases, clauses and sentences are clarified. And so on; for example, British expressions have been changed to their more universal equivalents. All in all, the result was a very good translation.

I then tried to interest the publishers of the first translation in bringing out a better one, mine. When on the 50th anniversary of the author's death, the publishers re-issued the same translation together with DVD's of Visconti's movie. I wrote them to say they had missed an opportunity to produce a better anniversary package. They asked for my manuscript. That was 2 years ago. I haven't heard anything since. Nor did I hear anything from the Italian Publisher. I may publish it myself.

The movie is a disappointment in English; the Italian version is more pleasing, primarily because of the Sicilian accents and words. And it's longer because of the extended Ball scene. However visually compelling Visconti's film, it stops short of being, The Leopard. For one thing, it ends after the ball. Despite the critics, this ending does not intimate the Prince's death (he is obsessed with death from the beginning). And the most compelling chapter, Death of A Prince, is not there.

There's much more to be said, read and written about this book and movie, I'm sure. But congratulations to the Accidental Blogger for re-introducing The Leopard.

Francesco and others, that's fascinating. To my ear, the AC translation has a dowager beauty, complex and rich and tottering, dated but slyly devastating for that. If a translation has a personality, and is vivid, then I tend not to fuss wanting more. Wrong or right, I'm happy. But I'd love to see what you did in that way with The Leopard. I wish you great good luck in finding the path for your translation. Books that are self-published as ebooks can succeed, and find hard copy publishers, especially if the marketing is very clever. Keep us in the picture, okay?

I'm not completely convinced about whether the concatenation of subordinate clauses is a disservice to the original. I find it charming, but then I have always been a fan of run-on sentences.
I suspect that the reason for there being no takers for the new translation is that AC's translation is more than adequate to convey the flow of the language, deficient as it might be in its interpretation of Sicilian idiom.
I'm currently reading a 1991 edition of the AC translation and am quite dissatisfied with the 2007 updated version of the translation myself. It rings too modern to my ears,probably due to modernizing edits.


Thanks for your comment. Would you perhaps like to share a sample of your own translation with our readers? For example, I have quoted two excerpts from the book in my post - Don Fabrizio's response to Chevalley and the church organist's complaint about the vote in Donnafugata. Could you email me your versions of the same passages?
I will be happy to put them up on the blog.

All best with the efforts to publish your version of The Leopard. In these days of e-publishing, why not and who knows where that will lead to?

There is a saying in Italian, "traduttore traditore", meaning translator traitor, he who betrays the original. Which is why I can't really argue about preferences for one translation or another; I can only point to poor rendition of meaning and mistranslations. Many great authors have suffered this fate, which is why translations of their works abound. Fortunately, AC does not suffer much on this account. To make some things understandable, my translation has added some footnotes to clarify obscure references in the text. My work was finished August 2006 and contact with the publisher made near the end of 2007. As for style in the original, critics of his day faulted the author for writing too traditional a story in too traditional a manner. Finally, I wish I could remember the title of the RAI movie about the author on the eve of his death and his relationship with his nephew, his adopted son. The movie also goes into the novel. Given that 4 years have gone by, it's time for me to review my own work; I've already found typos, and probably there are more than typos to be found.


Did you see my comment above? Would you like to share samples of your translation with us?

The Leopard with high expectations which were thoroughly satisfied. The novel, apparently based on the life of di Lampedusa's great-grandfather, is the story of a proud, sensual, Sicilian aristocrat at the time of Italy's Risorgimento(1860), and his reaction to the changes he sees in his society: mainly the inevitable, indeed necessary, but still in some ways regrettable displacement of the aristocracy from their traditional position.

Yes, I'll share, as you suggested. The excerpts are on their way to you by return email. Thanks

This is really rich material...a very well done review.Not only is there information from and about the book but also, it carries a critique of the genre along with crucial insights including the one on the translation of the novel. This review evokes more than casual interest in the book. I 'll look for it.

Regarding the question of translation, The Leopard is not a completely happy translation of Il Gattopardo as Lambadusa's title refers to an animal, the "cat leopard," which is now extinct, befitting the main character of the wonderful novel who promises to be the last in a long family line.

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