The Leopard

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The Leopard
Cover of the first edition
AuthorGiuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Original titleIl Gattopardo
Set inSicily
Publication placeItaly
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback)
ISBN0-679-73121-0 (Pantheon edition)
LC ClassPQ4843.O53
Cover of the American Signet edition

The Leopard (Italian: Il Gattopardo [il ˌɡattoˈpardo]) is a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento. Published posthumously in 1958 by Feltrinelli, after two rejections by the leading Italian publishing houses Mondadori and Einaudi, it became the top-selling novel in Italian history and is considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature. In 1959, it won Italy's highest award for fiction, the Strega Prize.[1] In 2012, The Guardian named it as one of "the 10 best historical novels".[2] The novel was made into an award-winning 1963 film of the same name, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon.

Tomasi was the last in a line of minor princes in Sicily. He had long contemplated writing a historical novel based on his great-grandfather, Don Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi, another Prince of Lampedusa. The Lampedusa Palace in Palermo, like the palace in the novel, was bombed during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.

The process of writing the novel


Although Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was a prolific reader, until the last few years of his life he had written almost nothing for publication. He first conceived the book that became The Leopard in the 1930s, but did not follow through on the idea at that time.[3] According to Tomasi's widow, Tomasi first conceived the novel as a story to take place over the course of one day in 1860, similar to James Joyce's modernist 1922 novel Ulysses. In the end, only the first chapter conformed to this plan.[3]

In 1954 Tomasi traveled with his cousin Lucio Piccolo, another late-in-life author, to a literary conference in San Pellegrino Terme. Piccolo had been invited on the basis of his recently published poetry, and brought Tomasi as a guest.[4] Also attending were Eugenio Montale,[4] and Emilio Cecchi,[4] Shortly after this, he began writing; as he wrote in 1955, "Being mathematically certain that I was no more foolish [than Lucio], I sat down at my desk and wrote a novel."[5]

By June 1955 he completed a version of the first chapter, conforming to his original intent of a story set in a single 24-hour period in 1860.[6] At this time, few people around him were aware that he was writing: he had always spent large amounts of time alone; those periods were now spent at his writing desk.[7] He finally showed a four-chapter work in progress to close associates in early 1956, corresponding roughly to the first, second, seventh, and eight chapters of the eventual novel.[8]

In May 1956, Tomasi sent a four-chapter typescript to Mondadori in Milan.[9] That summer he wrote two more chapters (drafts of the third and fourth in the final version) and in October he sent these to Mondadori as well.[9] Mondadori rejected the novel in December 1956, although their rejection left open the possibility of considering a future version of the same work.[10] In early 1957 he wrote two more chapters (the eventual fifth and sixth), revised those he had already written, and sent typescripts to several people.[11] With Tomasi's permission, his student Francesco Orlando sent a copy to literary agent Elena Croce [it], daughter of Benedetto Croce, leaving the author anonymous.[12] Another recipient, bookseller and publisher Fausto Flaccovio, liked the book but was not in the business of publishing fiction; he suggested sending it to Elio Vittorini,[13] unsurprisingly this rather traditional novel did not appeal to modernist Vittorini, who found it "rather old-fashioned" and "essayish".[14]

Eventually, the copy sent to Croce bore fruit, but not in Tomasi's lifetime. In 1957 he was diagnosed with lung cancer; he died on 23 July 1957 in Rome.[14] Elena Croce [it] sent the manuscript to the writer Giorgio Bassani, who brought it to the publisher Feltrinelli. On 3 March 1958, Feltrinelli contacted Tomasi di Lampedusa's widow to make arrangements to publish the novel.[12] It was published in November 1958, and became a bestseller, going through 52 editions in less than six months.[15] Il Gattopardo was quickly recognized as a great work of Italian literature.[16] In 1959 Tomasi di Lampedusa was posthumously awarded the prestigious Strega Prize for the novel.[17]

Plot summary


Most of the novel is set during the time of the Risorgimento, specifically during the period when Giuseppe Garibaldi, the leader of the famous Redshirts, swept through Sicily with his proletariat army known as The Thousand.

As the novel opens in May 1860, Garibaldi's Redshirts have landed on the Sicilian coast and are pressing inland; they will soon overthrow the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and incorporate it into the unified Italian Kingdom under Victor Emmanuel. The plot focuses upon the aristocratic Salina family, which is headed by Prince Fabrizio. Don Fabrizio is the patriarch of the family as well as the keeper of its strict code of conduct and Roman Catholic ritual. Prince Fabrizio finds marriage with his overly puritanical wife to be physically unsatisfying, and thus keeps a series of mistresses and courtesans as well as indulging in his hobby of amateur astronomy. He is drawn to his nephew Prince Tancredi Falconeri whom he sees as having noble qualities. This affection is somewhat diminished when he discovers that Tancredi has joined Garibaldi's Redshirts. On a trip to the Salina estate in the town of Donnafugata the Prince learns that the mayor, Don Calogero Sedara, has become wealthy through dodgy business transactions and political influence and that his wealth now rivals that of the Salinas. When Sedara introduces his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Angelica, Tancredi is smitten with her, to the dismay of the Prince's daughter Concetta, who loves Tancredi. Although aware of his daughter's feelings, the Prince accepts the inevitable and helps arrange Tancredi's betrothal to Angelica. The two pass a blissfully innocent period of engagement.

Fabrizio is offered the position of a Senator in the new Italian state but turns it down. Angelica is introduced to Palermo society at a sumptuous ball and despite her background slips easily into the role of future countess. The narrative then jumps forward by two decades and finds Prince Fabrizio on his deathbed, surrounded by family. The Prince considers that he will be the last true prince of the Salinas, the last leopard. A final chapter takes place in 1910 when Concetta, now seventy, is living in the family home with two of her sisters.



The novel was met by criticism from people of different political views. The novelist Elio Vittorini, who had rejected an earlier draft of the book for his own press, the author Alberto Moravia, and the poet Franco Fortini, among others, condemned the book as "right-wing". Moravia wrote that it expressed ruling-class "ideas and view of life." The equally leftist Louis Aragon vehemently disagreed, seeing it as a "merciless" criticism of that class;[18] many among the surviving Sicilian nobility certainly saw it as such, and were scandalized that one of their own could write such a thing.[19]

The book embodies multiple opinions. The Savoyard Piedmontese are presented as naive about Southern Italy, full of plans that will never match the reality of the region,[20] while the book's main representative of the old Bourbon regime, Don Fabrizio's brother-in-law Màlvica, is a fool.[21] In his biography of Tomasi, David Gilmour sees Tomasi as criticising the Risorgimento (Unification of Italy) "from both sides, from the viewpoints of both Gramsci ...," describing the failure of the revolutionaries to truly ally with the peasants, "... and the Bourbons," describing a unified Italy's substitution of even worse elements into the island's elite.[22] Despite or because of this controversy, The Leopard ultimately gained great critical acclaim. In 1959, it won Italy's highest award for fiction, the Strega Prize.[1]



Historical and autobiographical elements

Tomasi di Lampedusa's coat of arms features a serval, a smaller cat than a leopard.

The novel contains both historical and autobiographical elements. During the time he was writing, Tomasi stated in a letter to his friend Baron Enrico Merlo di Tagliavia that Don Fabrizio, the "'Prince of Salina is the Prince of Lampedusa, my great-grandfather Giulio Fabrizio,"[a][23] but also (in a letter to Guido Lajolo) "friends who have read it say that the Prince of Salina bears an awful resemblance to myself."[24] While Don Fabrizio's circumstances and many of his traits are clearly those of di Tomasi's great-grandfather, this is not necessarily so true of his opinions. In a further letter to Lajolo, after he had written more of the novel, Tomasi doubled down on the autobiographical aspect of the character: "Don Fabrizio expresses my ideas completely."[24] David Gilmour, in his biography of Tomasi, sees the character as mainly autobiographical but adds that there is also a fair amount of "the person the writer would like to have been" in Salina's "arrogant confidence, his overt sensuality, his authority over others..."[25]

Similarly, Tomasi wrote to Merlo di Tagliavia that that "Tancredi is, physically and in his behavior, Giò [Tomasi's adopted son Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi]; morally a blend of Francesco Lanza Spinelli di Scalea and his son Pietro."[23] To Lajolo, he wrote, that in terms of appearance and habits, Tancredi is "a portrait of Giò; as for his morals, however, Giò is fortunately very much better than him."[24] In his circumstances and actions, Tancredi also owes a lot to Giulio Fabrizio's nephew, Corrado Valguarnera, and to some of the latter's friends and associates.[26] Some of the reaction against the book by Sicilian aristocrats came from their taking Tancredi and his wife Angelica as "portraits of Corrado Valguarnera and his wife Maria Favara," then being unhappy that they were not accurate portraits. Gilmour remarks that the discrepancies from these historical figures are "not surprising because [Tomasi] had not tried to make them very similar."[19]

Some of the strongest historical and autobiographical elements of The Leopard are in the portraits of the places of Tomasi's life, especially his childhood. The town of Donnafugata is certainly Santa Margherita di Belice (near Palma di Montechiaro) and the palace there the Palazzo Filangeri-Cutò,[23] though considerably larger and more elaborate than the original.[27] Villa Salina outside Palermo is the Villa Lampedusa in Lorenzo outside Palermo.[27] The Palazzo Lampedusa in Palermo does not appear in the novel, although several of its rooms do.[27]

Despite being universally known in English as The Leopard, the original Italian title is Il Gattopardo, "The Serval",[28] the name of a much smaller species of cat found in Sub-Saharan Africa.[29] The symbol on the Tomasi di Lampedusa coat of arms is a serval.[28]


Two Sicilies at the time of The Leopard

Historical characters


Fictional characters


The Corbera Family:

  • Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, born 1810[31]
  • Maria Stella, Princess of Salina
  • Carolina, eldest of seven children, born 1840
  • Francesco Paolo, eldest son and heir, born 1844
  • Concetta, second daughter, born 1848[32]
  • Tancredi Falconeri, orphan son of the prince's sister, born 1834
  • Bendicò, the family dog

Others at Salina:

  • Father Pirrone, Jesuit family priest; helps the prince with mathematical computations
  • Pietro Russo, steward
  • Ciccio Ferrara, accountant
  • Mademoiselle Dombreuil, governess

Characters at Donnafugata:

  • Calogero Sedàra, Mayor of Donnafugata
  • Angelica, Calogero's daughter, born 1844
  • Monsignor Trotolino, priest at Holy Mother Church
  • Ciccio Genestra, notary
  • Onofrio Rotolo, steward
  • Toto Giambono, doctor
  • Ciccio Tumeo, organist at Holy Mother Church; hunting partner of the prince
  • Count Carlo Cavriaghi, friend of Tancredi from Lombardy
  • Knight Aimone Chevalley di Monterzuolo, bureaucrat from Piedmont



The novel served as the basis for a film directed by Luchino Visconti. Starring Burt Lancaster, it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.[33] 20th Century Fox cut the film dramatically for its original 1963 release,[34] but in 1983 Visconti's vision was re-released with English subtitles and the famous ballroom scene restored to its full 45 minute running time.[35]

The novel was adapted for radio by Michael Hastings and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2008. The radio play starred Tom Hiddleston as Tancredi, Hayley Atwell as Angelica, Stanley Townsend as Don Fabrizio, and Julie Legrand as Princess Stella.[36]



"If we want everything to stay as it is, everything has to change." (spoken by Tancredi)[37] The Italian text is "Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com'è bisogna che tutto cambi."[38]

"We were the Leopards, the Lions, those who'll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals, and sheep, we'll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth." (spoken by Don Fabrizio)[39] The Italian text is "Noi fummo i Gattopardi, i Leoni; quelli che ci sostituiranno saranno gli sciacalletti, le iene. E tutti quanti, Gattopardi, sciacalli e pecore, continueremo a crederci il sale della terra."[40]

Current editions



  1. ^ Excerpts from a letter by the author to his friend Baron Enrico Merlo di Tagliavia that describes the relationship between the historical and fictional characters:

    There is no need to tell you that the "Prince of Salina" is the Prince of Lampedusa, my great-grandfather Giulio Fabrizio; everything about him is real: his build, his mathematics, the pretense of violence, the skepticism, the wife, the German mother, the refusal to be a senator: Father Pirrone is also authentic, even his name. I think I have given them both a greater degree of intelligence than in fact was the case. ... Tancredi is, physically and in his behavior, Giò; morally a blend of Senator Scalea and his son Pietro. I've no idea who Angelica is, but bear in mind that the name Sedàra is quite similar to "Favara." ... Donnafugata as a village is Palma; as a palace, Santa Margherita. ... Bendicò is a vitally important character and practically the key to the novel.[23]


  1. ^ a b Mitgang, Herbert (21 August 1991). "Books of The Times; Dying World of the 'Last Leopard'". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2017. The Leopard won Italy's highest award for fiction, the Strega Prize, and became a huge best seller.
  2. ^ Skidelsky, William (12 May 2012). "The 10 best historical novels". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  3. ^ a b Gilmour 1988, p. 129
  4. ^ a b c Gilmour 1988, pp. 125–126
  5. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 127
  6. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 129–130
  7. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 132
  8. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 139
  9. ^ a b Gilmour 1988, pp. 140–141
  10. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 141–142
  11. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 151–152
  12. ^ a b Gilmour 1988, p. 159
  13. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 151
  14. ^ a b Gilmour 1988, p. 158
  15. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 162
  16. ^ "A place in the sun". The Guardian. 3 May 2003.
  17. ^ "Aristócratas, obreros y escritores" [Aristocrats, Workers, and Writers]. Brecha (in Spanish). 6 September 2019.
  18. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 187–188
  19. ^ a b Gilmour 1988, p. 190
  20. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 178, 181
  21. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 178
  22. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 183–184
  23. ^ a b c d e Tomasi di Lampedusa & Colquhoun 1960, p. xii (Foreword)
  24. ^ a b c Gilmour 1988, p. 163
  25. ^ Gilmour 1988, p. 165
  26. ^ Gilmour 1988, pp. 164–165
  27. ^ a b c Gilmour 1988, p. 128 (footnote)
  28. ^ a b Alù, Giorgia (22 June 2020). "Guide to the Classics: The Leopard". The Conversation. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  29. ^ Estes, R. D. (2004). "Serval Felis serval". The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates (4th ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 361–363. ISBN 978-0-520-08085-0.
  30. ^ Tomasi di Lampedusa & Colquhoun 1960, pp. 214ff
  31. ^ He was 73 years old in 1883. Tomasi di Lampedusa & Colquhoun 1960, p. 253
  32. ^ She was 40 years old in 1888. Tomasi di Lampedusa & Colquhoun 1960, p. 243
  33. ^ Ress, Paul (24 May 1963). "'The Leopard' Is Winner of Cannes Film Award". Chicago Tribune. p. a4.
  34. ^ Davies, Brenda (1964). "Can the Leopard...?". Sight and Sound. Vol. 33, no. 2, Spring 1964. p. 99.
  35. ^ Thomas, Kevin (30 October 1983). "Movies: Visconti's 'Leopard' Roars Anew". Los Angeles Times. p. u27.
  36. ^ "The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa". Promenade Productions. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  37. ^ Tomasi di Lampedusa & Colquhoun 1960, p. 40
  38. ^ "Il romanzo e il film". Archived from the original on 14 May 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2007.
  39. ^ Tomasi di Lampedusa & Colquhoun 1960, p. 214
  40. ^ a page on the Figurella site

Sources cited


Further reading

  • Dumitrescu, Margareta (2001). Sulla parte 6. del Gattopardo: la fortuna di Lampedusa in Romania [On Part 6 of The Leopard: the fortune of Lampedusa in Romania] (in Italian). Bucharest; Catania: Fundației Culturale Române; G. Maimone. OCLC 51067822.