Friday 5 August 2022

Giuseppe di Leopardusa

My previous view of Lampedusa was all in the cooking: frightening fish-sauce and comforting macaroni.  But for many people of my age and sensibility, Lampedusa is likely to trigger the famous mid-20thC novel Il Gattopardo / The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa or the film by Visconti and starring Burt Lancaster as the aging patriarch getting sidelined by active mid-19thC history. I enjoyed the book but metaphorically threw the film across the room in a petulant fit of antipathy. But pretty much all I can remember was the steaming tureen of pasta with challenging inclusions. I 'did' 19thC history to quite an advanced level at school but b'god it was parochial - essentially the see-saw between Gladstone and Disraeli as Prime Minister against a background of steam-trains, factories and flag-wagging. Continental Europe was irrelevant to Empire and so we skipped the Italian Risorgimento, Garibaldi's red-shirts and the consolidation of the Kingdom of Italy under one flag in 1861 [R]. 

I have just finished having read to me Lampedusa [2019] by Canadian poet Steven Price. Price's book is a novelized biography of the author of The Leopard which is a novel about the author's great-grandfather. There is therefore a certain amount of clever symmetry in the more recent story. Giuseppe died in 1957 before his novel was published which spared him a lot of tedious questions from journalists about how much he was his own great-grandfather and how much his adopted son modelled a similarly-aged protegé of the 19thC patriarch. If it sounds confusingly recursive, it's the crappy way I tell it, because I find that the 2019 book works

It works partly because it offers a compassionate and accepting view of people who, on the face of it, should be first against the wall when the revolution comes. I guess, if you wanted to paint the Princes of Lampedusa as late-medieval dinosaurs, then you'd tell the story more objectively and less from inside the head of protagonist. There's a rather telling exchange comparing Giuseppe di L. with his cousin the poet Lucio Piccolo [1901-1969]. The latter is exposed as writing for the adulation of the crowd fellow intellectuals and thereby compromising any hope of finding Truth. otoh, Giuseppe, like Luther, wrote because he could do no other. He wrote like he was on fire to get it all down before he died and everything he knew was flushed down the t'ilet of history. Neither of the publishers to whom he submitted his manuscript would accept it. They couldn't imagine turning a profit on such a retrospective tale - which demographic would read it?, they asked. The laugh was on them because Feltrinelli Editore discovered everyone wanted to read it and made a fortune on their investment.

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