the leopard



Commentary on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa

I remember that, in the debate pages of the corporate press in the 1980s, there was always a politician making allusions to the novel the leopard, from Lampedusa. Or, perhaps, to the film by Lucchino Visconti (1963). Before turning into a best sellers, the book was rejected by two major Italian publishers, Einaudi and Mondadori. It was published by the communist publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (1958), the “subversive aristocrat”.[I]

In the 1980s we once again experienced the historic opportunity of an ongoing democratic revolution, diluting itself in the transaction with the ruling classes. It was the “prolonged transition”, according to Florestan Fernandes. The New(?) Republic carried in short the “authoritarian debris”, according to the journalist Jânio de Freitas. Others, with more style, like Severo Gomes, quoted Lampedusa's phrase that everyone knew without having read the book.

It was the first time that the leopard caught my attention. Now, I reread another opportunity for social change (2022) in which the impetus for change resurfaces supported by the forces of the past.

O Leopardo perhaps it is the most cited Italian novel in Brazilian political life. more than the simple Pinocchio, a source of satire in the 1980s. the leopard among us, just remember that it had five translations in Brazil: Rui Cabeçadas (Difel, 220 pages, 1963); José Antonio Pinheiro Machado (L&PM, 206 pages, 1983); Marina Colasanti (Record, 300 pages, from 2000); Leonardo Codignoto (Nova Cultural, 318 pages, 2003);[ii] and Maurício Santana Dias (Companhia das Letras, 381 pages, 2017).

The best-known phrase refers to the dialogue between the Prince of Salina and his nephew Tancredi: “if we want everything to continue as it is, everything must change”.

It was read as the ruse of the old aristocracy in composing with the rising bourgeoisie in order to prevent a popular revolution. However, it was not a question of eliminating it, but of directing it, mitigating it, deforming it and trimming its excesses. The complete sentence was a call to action.

The novel was seen by Italian left-wing intellectuals as reactionary. However, over time it came to be read as a critique of the Risorgimento (Italian unification carried out from above, that is, more by the new king than by Garibaldi).

In the 50 years that the plot has taken place, there have been significant changes: “The Leopard begins with the prayer of the Rosary and ends with the destruction of the religious and profane relics of the Salina house”.[iii] The incomplete revolution of Risorgimento took a step towards removing the Church from the center of social life.

The narrator writes well after the events, ironically marking other historical moments that the characters are unaware of, and which he reveals as a kind of complicity with the reader.

This modernity of the text allows breaking the narrative linearity. Thus, when we are enraptured by the romantic desires of Tancredi or Concetta or by the beauty of Angelica, the narrator's pessimism anticipates his old age and decay. The moments of flight and passion are tempered by the corrosion of the years that the reader and the narrator, accomplices, already sense.

Now, in Brazil, we have become accustomed to a common sense that dictates that there are no changes, just the reiteration of a large exporting colony of commodities. Our independence would have been a compromise, there was no Republic, and 1930 would have been no revolution. Fair or unfair, these formulations must be debated from the point of view of the participation of subordinate classes. After all, they fought for independence, abolition, the Republic and a revolution in 1930, but were pushed aside by the new power.

O Leopardo records the criticism of the historical limits of the Italian bourgeoisie from an opposite angle: that of the nobility. Dom Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, is an aristocrat who is skeptical of human beings, jealous of his family tradition and aware of the immobility of Sicilian customs. However, he is perfectly endowed with class consciousness.

The word “class” appears several times in the work and the protagonist observes all his interlocutors with awareness of the role played by different social groups. He sums up the Revolution in the tie of the parvenu who starts to frequent your house; observes the daughter of the bourgeois holding the fork by half the handle; even when she speaks in an appropriate tone, she seems too controlled; conventions, learned in the best of northern schools, do not escape him; but she has no naturalness.

Even the protagonist's nephew, Tancredi, linked to the struggle for Italian unification, observes the little finger pointing upwards in the future bourgeois bride, while holding the cup; or he notices her picking a lint of food from her tooth with her fingernail. He will, nevertheless, marry the daughter of the nouveau riche, who is richer than all the nobles in the region.

The novel also introduces other possibilities for union. Tancredi's cousin, Concetta, will be left aside by the flow of things, as he needs to marry a bourgeois woman who will guarantee him the resources for a political career in the new regime. But also because of errors in the assessment of an anecdote that will only be revealed to be false at the end of his life. Here the author introduces a novelistic resource that the historian does not have: what would it have been like if…

Where does the class consciousness of Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, come from? Now, he is a noble and belongs to a class that has a small number of interrelated members. All of them (and they, since noble women enjoyed greater independence) with a privileged link with the institutions that symbolized the Old Regime society as a whole (King, court, parliament).[iv]

The XNUMXth century bourgeoisie was still developing the integrated market and a state to acquire its own conscience. It would take time for it to move beyond immediate corporate interests. In Italy this happened through what Gramsci called the Passive Revolution, unlike the Jacobin radicalism of the French Revolution.

The ruling classes displayed their conscience when they projected an independent nation, above feudal particularisms and papal universalism. In a semi-colonial country like Brazil, whose bourgeois tasks were left behind, would it not be possible for a Leopardo.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio).

Originally published on the website spotlight.



[I]Feltrinelli, Carlo. Feltrinelli – Editor, Aristocrat and Subversive. São Paulo: Conrad, 2006.

[ii]Belém, Euler F. “Happy is the country that has four translations of the great novel O Leopardo, by the Italian Tomasi di Lampedusa”, Option Newspaper, N. 2086, Goiânia, Saturday, June 27th.

[iii]Dias, Maurício S. “Afterword”, in Lampedusa, Giuseppe T. the leopard. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2017, p. 282.

[iv]Hobsbawm, E. “Notes on Class Consciousness”, in: Id. worlds of work. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1987, p. 38.

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