During the dramatic social upheavals of 1860s Sicily, the Prince of Salina, a noble nobleman of spotless morality, struggles to maintain his family and station.
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s work The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) describes the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento. After being rejected by the prominent Italian publishing firms Mondadori and Einaudi, it was published posthumously in 1958 by Feltrinelli and became the best-selling novel in Italian history. It is regarded as one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature. It earned Italy’s top fiction prize, the Strega Prize, in 1959. The Observer rated it one of the “ten finest historical books” of 2012.
The novel was also adapted into an award-winning 1963 film starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, and Alain Delon, directed by Luchino Visconti.
Tomasi was the last of Sicily’s minor princes. He had long considered writing a historical novel on his great-grandfather, another Prince of Lampedusa, Don Giulio Fabrizio Tomasi. Tomasi fell into deep despair when the Lampedusa palace near Palermo was destroyed and pillaged during the Allied invasion of Sicily. To cope with his emotions, he began writing Il Gattopardo.
Despite being known as The Leopard in English, the original Italian title is Il Gattopardo, which alludes to the serval, a considerably smaller animal. Although the serval is scarce north of the Sahara Desert, one of the few North African ranges is quite close to Lampedusa. The serval is the sign on the Tomasi di Lampedusa coat of arms, and despite their rarity, some Sicilians kept them as exotic pets.