1 November 2021 Susannah

Lampedusa

Steven Price

My ‘Tea with a Book Addict’ talk this month is on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s great novel, The Leopard. Lampedusa was a quiet, reclusive sort of man who was always happiest with a book. It sounds as if he must have been one of the best-read men ever! He learned various languages so he read books written in those languages, and he never went anywhere without at least one book. He wrote The Leopard in his last years, while fighting illness and also going through the process of adopting a young relative as his son and heir (he had little money to leave, but he did have titles to pass on) and the novel was rejected by two publishers. However, when it was published after Lampedusa’s death, it became the best-selling novel in Italian history.

I have recently very much enjoyed the novel Lampedusa by Steven Price, a poignant account of those last years. Published in 2019, the novel was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It’s the story of a dying man coming to terms with his life, it’s the picture of an unusual marriage, but above all it tells of how a great classic came to be written. You can feel the heat of Sicily, hear Lampedusa’s laboured breathing as emphysema takes its hold, and you can watch the novel emerge from his imagination. An excellent novel!

And it has also been time to watch once again Visconti’s glorious 1963 film of the novel, with Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.

Did you know that all Burt Lancaster’s lines were spoken in English and then dubbed into Italian for the Italian version, while the other actors all spoke Italian and were dubbed into English for the English version? And that incredible ball scene lasts for 45 minutes – it would take a brave director to spend so much time on one scene today!

If you don’t know much about Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and his greatest work, I’ll be giving a talk on him on Zoom on 7th November. There are some seats available if you’d like to join me, and the video talk will be available from 1st December.

Have you read any of Lampedusa’s other work? Can you recommend some other good Italian novels? Let me know in a comment.

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Featured image credit- Steven Price, https://www.facebook.com/stevenpriceauthor/
Body image credit- Burt Lancaster & Claudia Cardinale, The Leopard, 1963 Titanus Italian movie adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057091/
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Comments (10)

  1. Debra Roush

    Susannah, The Leopard is one of my favorite novels. Thank you for recommending the novel about Lampedusa. Imagine having titles to leave one’s heirs!

    Debra

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, not just one title, but several – wouldn’t it be nice. I have so loved rereading The Leopard – an amazing novel. I think you will really enjoy the Steven Price book.

  2. Pamela Gratton

    Elena Ferrante’s four book series ‘The Neapolitan Novels’ translated by Ann Goldstein is an excellent Italian series, primarily based in Naples. Once you have read the first book ‘My Brilliant Friend’ You are captured and have to read the remaining 3 books in the series. You learn so much about life in Naples and Italian politics and history.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I think I need to revisit these books. I read the first one and wasn’t grabbed, so didn’t read any more, but so many people have raved about them, so I clearly missed something. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Margaret Clingan Wright

    Hullo, Susannah.
    I also just love ‘The Leopard’.
    This is binging back to me a lovely and interesting trip I made. When I was in Sicily some years ago, I tried to track down Lampedusa’s palaces. Palermo was badly damaged during WW2, and at the time I was there, the local mafia apparently redirected money intended for restorations, so there were many wrecked once beautiful buildings. I found his main palace in Palermo; it had received a direct hit from a bomb in WW2, and was still boarded up. I could peer through the cracks and see the elaborate staircases leading up to nowhere.
    I walked for about an hour to the outskirts of Palermo looking for his derelict ‘country’ villa, but turned back before finding it because I felt I was being observed rather closely by the inhabitants of a gypsy camp in the vicinity. There were some interesting villas along the way, however. I went searching for Palazzo Gangi, where the ballroom scene in Visconti’s film was filmed. I found it – it must be one of the few in the city in one piece. I could see the ballroom wing from the piazza, and when the main gates opened, I asked if I could see the ballroom. I was told that as the Principessa was in Roma, the chauffeur could not give permission.
    I went in search of the summer villa, Santa Margherita, (Donnafugata in the book) but it is also ruined.
    In order to see the interior of the Palazzo Gangi, I had to hire Visconti’s film from Melbourne(it wasn’t available on DVD at the time), I hired a small theatre, and a projectionist friend agreed to show it. I then asked all the people who had been in Sicily with us (mu husband was the historian on a Classical tour of Sicily) (my Lampedusa Odyssy was my own aberration!) if they’d like to see it for a small fee to cover the costs. Se we saw the film, and thus I was able to see the ballroom again, having seen it in the cinema many years before.
    Apologies for all this..I enjoy the nostalgia.

    The books I have are:
    The Leopard G.Y di Lampedusa
    Childhood Memories and Other Stories G.T. di Lampedusa
    The Last leopard David Gilmour
    Palazzi of Sicily A. Zalapi
    Princes Under the Volcano Raleigh Trevelyan
    Midnight in Sicily Peter Robb

    I look forward to the presentation!!
    Best wishes,
    Margaret Wright.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for sharing those memories, Margaret. I must admit that, even with David Gilmour’s biography, it has been hard sorting out the various homes and what has happened to them since. I loved hearing about your literary ‘tour’ – just the sort of travels I love to do myself.
      Your list of books is impressive, but do add the Steven Price novel to your collection. I loved it and felt it really brought the author alive.
      I do hope you enjoy the talk.

      • Margaret Clingan Wright

        Thanks, Susannah. I must read the Price book. Yes, it’s a bit of an adventure looking for literary houses, and especially in Sicily, it seems.
        I didn’t visit the very-much surviving palace on Via Butera on the Marine Drive overlooking the sea, unfortunately. As you know, it’s where Lampedusa lived his last years, and died there. His adopted son then lived there. David Gilmour’s introduction to his book, ‘The Last Leopard’ is so sad.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Yes, the thought of precious papers blowing about in the wind, and all the destruction of a home he so loved, is really sad.

  4. Anne Williams

    I haven’t been able to read the book The Leopard as yet, so I may try watching the film because unfortunately I won’t be able to Zoom in on Sunday as I will be volunteering to open our (Kogarah Historical Society) Cottage Museum in Carr’s Park for the first time since lockdown. I will just have to wait until December to hear your talk Susannah.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      A great volunteering job, Anne. My son-in-law grew up right by Carrs Park and has enjoyed so many family events there.
      The film of The Leopard is amazing, but the book is even better.

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