Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Leopard

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The Leopard is a novel which explores the unknown realms of death, with these three passages being prime examples of this. However, Lampedusa deals with this theme of death in an intricate manner such that, whilst these passages can be broadly paralleled with each other, the deaths that occur are not mere deaths of the human body, instead, Lampedusa chooses, through powerful language and vivid imagery, to outline how one man, Don Fabrizio can have such a profound effect on the lives of others and how decisions made in the present severely affect the events of the future.

“Just whatever you like, ladies; keep them or throw them on the rubbish heap; they have no value whatsoever.” This statement from the Pope’s secretary, Don Pacchiotti who was Piedmontese, “those who besieged the last Bourbon King”, was the final irony of the novel. No longer would the Salina name be dragged through mud, the last hint of prestige associated with this once prestigious household was now officially gone. “Carolina had been the real creator of this collection”, however, Concetta, as uncontested mistress of the house, had to bear the burden of humiliation for all three of the unmarried sisters.

The last ounce of life was drained from Concetta’s body; this lack of emotion was the result of years of solitude stemming from Concetta’s lost love Tancredi. Even the portrait of her father, who she deeply loathed, was now just a mere physical object, the four green cases in her room, “an inferno of mummified memories”

Lampedusa chose to end the novel with this chapter, “Relics”, in which the events occur twenty-seven years after the Prince’s death, to outline how Concetta was in fact the last of the Salina, something completely overlooked by Fabrizio, although, he was aware that Concetta’s attitude closely resembled his own during his lifetime. This chapter, and this passage from the novel also outlines how The Leopard still has a profound effect on his family members, even posthumously. Lampedusa also makes us aware of an almost religious presence, the Salina family helpless in the path of their own fate, doomed from time immemorial.

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Don Fabrizio faces the death of pure nobility with the union of Angelica and Tancredi. “Angelica excited by… the obvious admiration she was arousing in every man around the table.” Fabrizio also perceptively realises the weakness of the Sicilian people, and during his conversation with Chevalley he describes the attitudes of his people “a hankering for oblivion…that attracts us only because is it dead.” The Prince clearly longs for death, for “a meeting less ephemeral… for perennial certitude…”

The union of Tancredi and Angelica is the event which desensitises Concetta. It was also Concetta’s stubborn Salina pride which prevented her from ever marrying; this also evoked a hatred for her father and a bitter-sweet relationship with Tancredi’s wife, Angelica.

The inspection of the Salina chapel is Concetta’s final emotional trigger. She was alive in the physical sense of being, yet she felt nothing, living only in a subliminal state, consumed by the wretched fate of the Salina; defunct in spirit. This segment also highlights the differences between Concetta and her two sisters. Carolina and Caterina spending time collecting worthless relics, Concetta providing the finances and dealing with anything of importance. The obvious similarity between the sisters is their marital status, and whilst Fabrizio himself is to blame for this, the specific details are very different.

Worthy of noting from passage three is the comments of the “lovely frames” which encase the worthless relics. These can be paralleled with the lives of Don Fabrizio and Concetta, decorated with much glamour, but most of the actual artefacts themselves having no worth. The artefacts are life, and remind us of how Don Fabrizio lead a life of decadence, melancholy and one of little meaning, seeking refuge in astronomy. “I’m seventy-three, and all in all, I may have lived, really lived, a total of two…”

Lamepdusa’s mastery of language provides the reader with a fulfilling experience, one filled with many complex themes and ideas, many more than solely the theme of death. These passages are about much more than death, they are as much about life as they are death, making the reader aware, mainly from The Prince’s monologue, just how his actions shaped the lives of so many others, and how the Salina family were not in control of their fate. Lampedusa makes us aware of just how much Concetta’s life was marred by her authoritarian father, and how memories of the past can be more damaging than an actual moment in the present. Upon conclusion of the novel, Concetta had Bendico, the Prince’s stuffed Great Dane, discarded out the window, but even then, the deceased dog seems to compose itself into the form of a prancing leopard, and then “all came to rest in a little heap of livid dust.”

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