Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday morning again, home alone again. Another trudging week ahead.

Fortunately the leaves will be red and the skies will be blue and the grass will be green and the cat will be white.

I have begun re-reading Lampedusa's The Leopard. This is not a book I read as a young person, but I have come to love it so deeply--for its evocation of place; its evocation of human-animal attachment; its episodic structure; its patient, ornate description; its massive delicate crumbling protagonist, a character who reflects his landscape in himself. As E. M. Forster wrote, "This is one of the great lonely books."

In his introduction to the Everyman translation, David Gilmour writes:
Giueseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, died in the summer of 1957. He was sixty years old and had published nothing in his lifetime except for a handful of articles in an obscure Genoese journal. A few days before his death, a leading Italian publisher rejected the book he had been writing for the previous two years, and thus he died in ignorance that he had written the most successful novel ever to come out of Italy. The Leopard was finally published in November 1958. The following year it won the Strega prize; twenty months after its publication, it had reached its fifty-seventh printing. 
Several books and several hundred articles have been written about The Leopard and Lampedusa's other posthumous works, the short stories and the memoir of his childhood. While much of the later attention was concentrated on the author's language and use of imagery, the bulk of the earlier articles was concerned with his political attitudes and his view of history. Alarmed by the growing success of the book and the initial enthusiastic reviews, leading left-wing intellectuals took up polemical positions, attacking Lampedusa's "reactionary philosophy," his "squalid ideology," and "his mean and narrow historical vision." Alberto Moravia called the book "a success for the Right"; Leonardo Sciascia complained that it was written without a sense of history; Elio Vittorini, who as a publisher's adviser had rejected the work during its author's lifetime, claimed it was old-fashioned and ridiculed its portrayal of death.
And yet, in my eyes, a half-century later, The Leopard is anything but a "mean and narrow" vision of history. It is, as Tolstoy's novels can also be, the portrait of a person and a landscape who cannot keep up with the times. The person knows this; the landscape does not. When I think of the anti-intellectualism of our own Right, I wonder what a writer such as Moravia would make of Lampedusa's novel if he were able to re-read it today. I think he might recognize the sensation of being frozen inside history.

As for being "old-fashioned" and offering a "ridicul[ous] . . . portrayal of death": all I can say is that this is what happens when an aging Sicilian prince spends all of his days reading fiction. His translator, Archibald Colquhoun, writes:
The briefcase opened. It contains, as well as maybe a few cakes from the last cafe, books, the addictions which made him as great an object of suspicion to his fellow grandees as his great-grandfather had been with his telescopes and comet-finders. 
The books might vary, but were all in their original language; Tolstoy, Stendhal, Flaubert and Proust, Thomas Mann, Dickens, and latterly, Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster (it is pleasant to think of this admiration being reciprocated). Always, there was a volume of Shakespeare which, according to his widow, he took with him everywhere. This concentrated reading throughout the day at the cafe table . . . was in a way creative. His cousin and intimate friend, the poet Lucio Piccolo, can remember him spending an entire summer reading the novels of Richardson.
My only quibble is the phrase "in a way creative." Because, of course, there is no "in a way" about it. His reading was profoundly creative. I imagine, at times, it was desperately creative.

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