The Last Leopard: A Life of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
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David Gilmour's biography of Giuseppe di Lampedusa unearths the life story of the creator of The Leopard, one of the great novels of the twentieth century. A book whose imagery, once tasted, haunts the reader forever, The Leopard describes the golden era of nineteenth-century Sicily: its sensual, fading, aristocratic glory and its corruption, brutality, and inequality lurking beneath the surface. Who wrote this masterpiece, this work of art? The answer is as unlikely as one might hope. A fascinating meditation on what it is that makes a writer.
encounter a cascade of Lampedusa’s letters. One evening, after Gioacchino had gone to Rome, I went down to the basement and noticed an old cardboard box in a corner. Inside were documents which had not been seen since Lampedusa’s death: the diaries of his last years, the files of his time in the Red Cross, letters, unpublished essays, a commonplace book, some photograph albums of the 1920s. To take these upstairs to Lampedusa’s own library and work through them in the small hours was a memorable
performance of which he left the theatre ‘cheered up and with a whirling of exquisite words, like fireworks, before my eyes’.130 In the libraries he used to read volumes of political journals from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He liked the original Spectator and claimed to have read nearly half its back numbers; he much admired Addison’s style, ‘lucid, colloquial but elegant’, and believed it had set the tone for subsequent British essayists down to Belloc and Huxley.131 He also liked
his good one, his beauty, his adored: her thoughts, he told her, were as sweet as her kisses and as the beauty of her body. Writing usually in the small hours, he complained of their long separations and the pain they caused him every time. The last two years, he said, had been very difficult, but he consoled himself with the thought that they would soon be together for ever.176 Licy came to Palermo for Easter in 1932. Yet while they had clearly decided to marry, they kept their plans secret.
Piccolos] in a café or at the club.179 During the summer plans for their wedding went ahead in secret. Giuseppe hinted at the project in a letter to his friend Bruno Revel,180 though he kept his parents ignorant of his intentions. In August he left for the north, but a letter he sent Beatrice from Munich on the 17th gave no intimation of the impending ceremony. It contained descriptions of beautiful views (Bologna and Kufsstein), of the assiduousness of a Munich hotel manager (who asked after
great Whig historians, Macaulay and G. M. Trevelyan, who doubtless influenced his favourable view of English constitutional development. But he also loved the seventeenth-century diarists, Pepys and Evelyn, and had great admiration for the biographies of Carlyle. Among the French he read the books of modern historians (Bloch, Mathiez and Madelin) as well as the memoirists of the Napoleonic era (Marbot, Caulaincourt and the emperor’s disgraced secretary Bourienne). He also advised people to read a