Category Archives: Leopard, The

The Leopard: Read from July 23 to August 02, 2014

This is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read and it’s also somewhat unnerving because of how often it forces you to confront your own life, your past, and your mortality. Each time the Prince recalls his past or observes the world he currently lives in, I felt myself having to take a deep breath and press on towards what I knew was going to be some vaguely uncomfortable realizations about what it means to get older.

I kept thinking about King Lear as the novel went on, however, where Lear set in motion the engine of his demise by dividing up his kingdom, the Prince here is at the mercy of the times. He lives in a world – Sicily – that instead of being divided and carved up is in the throes of consolidation. Sicily’s unique identity, and thus the Prince’s, is being taken from him and being absorbed. And he’s powerless to do anything about it.

So in a way his story hits even closer to home than Lear’s because of how little control even a powerful man like Prince Fabrizio has over the events around him. And some of this lack of control is not always external, but internal as well. Though a large, powerful man, he’s also a little lazy, and not as smart as he would like. He never seemed able to really manage his estate and solved his problems by selling off tracts of land when he got in a bind. Slowly he whittled his own life away.

Yet it’s not all sad, either. He seems like a man who, though he doesn’t believe it, really did live a full life. He may have spent most of it being indulgent and not working towards any greater good for society, but he did at least enjoy his life, unlike his daughter who realizes much to late she spent her life believing something that was not true – just like her relics.

And when the Prince dies we never get these sense he wasted his life, rather he just wasn’t able to hang onto it. And who can, really? Some families may have long branches that extend for generations, but the tree eventually dies. And what can we do when we are confronted with the fact that life will get away from us all? Well we could try to enjoy it, we could be more like the Prince’s dog, Bendicò, that mischievous doggy who even long after death manages to give one last taste of playfulness about him.

There is no optimistic or pessimistic message here. The novel has no answers, it only explores a life and what it means to confront your own life. That’s why I found it vaguely unsettling at times because these are thoughts I’m not eager to spend much (or any) time dwelling on – better to just live than think about living. Yet there will come a time where everyone has to look honestly at their own life and reckon with their own sense of worthwhile. And we shouldn’t worry so much about the past or about events around us we cannot control, the world is going to change if we like it or not no matter how much we are able to control.

Yet hopefully we’ll be remembered even just a little bit, even if it is just in a small way, the way the image of the leopard is worn by the priest at the end of the novel who carts away the useless old relics.

91% done with The Leopard

The death scene is quite remarkable – the images of water and the sea crashing over.

This reminds me so much of King Lear, except that instead of him giving up his power, he’s seen it slowly ebb away through events he was either not smart enough, powerful enough, or willing enough to stop.

So sad as he thinks that of 73 years his math adds up to only 2 years of real living, 3 tops. Yet it’s not bitter, either.

75% done with The Leopard

What I’m enjoying about the novel is the level of complexity in the characters. While there does seem to be an attempt at making a point about society, the characters are well drawn to make those themes and ideas more obscure and open to interpretation.

On the one hand he talks about how nothing changes, but we do see change, mostly religious and towards atheists. A Jesuit defending the rich? Is nothing sacred?

66% done with The Leopard

“… the sin which we Sicilians never forgive is simply that of ‘doing’ at all.”

The Prince is at a very specific age where he’s young enough to be physically imposing, yet old enough to not care anymore about using his energy. He knows what the direction the river is flowing so why bother fighting against it. He sees clearly what a young man can’t and he knows he can’t change anything

Is it cynical or realist?

47% done with The Leopard

So much imagery of violent death and even putrefaction amid beauty. The Prince sees the world as only a man his age can see it: with death and decomposition nibbling about the edges of all life.

And then there is the futility of politics. Even a man of his power (even waning as it is) is at best just one vote and at worse that one vote can be changed by whoever wants it changed

He’s feeling life getting away

30% done with The Leopard

You can feel how hot it is, how dusty the road is, how unrelenting the sun is. It’s oppressive. The hot imagery is contrasted with the Don getting out of the bath, the priest seeing his body, and the water flowing off of him like all the famous European rivers.

From the very beginning I’ve sympathized with the Don who is so conscience of his dwindling power and each day’s loss of prestige. He’s old now.

10% done with The Leopard

If I didn’t know any better I would have assumed the book had been written not long after the events that take place. The novel feels authentic in its setting and time, the main character, Don Fabrizio Corbera, feels genuine, as if he stepped right out of a troubled 19th century.

I love the attention to detail: the dead soldier under the lemon tree, Bendicò, the desert that looks like a castle.