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This passage is from the novel 'Il Gattopardo' by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, published in 1958. The novel centres itself around the aristocratic Salina family living in Palermo during a significant period in Italian history called the Risorgimento. It follows head of the house Don Fabrizio as he struggles to accept the social and economic changes resulting from Garibaldi's invasions during the Risorgimento, witnessing the rise of a new elite and the decline of aristocratic power. Part VII 'The Death of a Prince' is the climax of the novel, situated near the end of the book, illustrating the death of Don Fabrizio and ultimately the death of an era. The passage portrays Don Fabrizio's final acceptance to the change, showing his last reflections before his demise.
This passage shows the Prince at a hotel outside Palermo nearing the end of his life, bringing to a culmination the recurring theme of death which permeates the novel. His beloved nephew Tancredi is clenching his hand whilst reporting on political news. Fabrizio's mind drifts off into his own thoughts, reflecting upon his own life and clouding over the topic, giving the impression that the politics which have been the cause of his troubles is no longer important. Lampedusa uses allegory to describe his life ebbing away from him by describing it as the 'le acque della vita' ( p243) surging away. He subsequently employs the imagery of water again by portraying his health rapidly declining as a 'tempestoso' (p245) ocean and then ultimately describes his death as 'Il fragore del mare si placò del tutto.'(p246). This powerful imagery gives the impression of his life and the aristocracy being washed away, leaving no trace behind. The theme of death is apparent throughout the novel, even from the very beginning: 'Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen' (p31). His preoccupation with death is shown through the numerous symbolic references such as the description of the dead soldier found in the overgrown garden which reflects the decaying of the monarchical class, his comparison Angelica and Tancredi to Romeo and Juliet (characters who ultimately die for their love), his view of the painting during the ball in part 6 entitled 'Morte del Giusto', and also his mention of the cattle being lead to slaughter just before his death. At the beginning of this chapter he refers to life metaphorically as the sands of an hourglass, incessantly draining away. These recurrent references to death reflect upon the era which this novel was based. Don Fabrizio's growing consciousness of inevitable death relate to his increasing knowledge of the decline in aristocracy and in the prestige of his family name. Before this period, Sicily was part of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies governed by monarchical rule. However in 1860, it was invaded by Garibaldi's army in an attempt to unify the country and install a new system of elective parliaments to take the place of aristocratic power. In this passage, Don Fabrizio is fully aware that his death will bring about an end to his family's prestige. He has a son named Paolo about whom he states he felt 'l'orgoglio di aver prolungato di un rametto l'albero di casa Salina' (p243) yet his pride had been 'abusivo' (p243). To Don Fabrizio, Paolo is too useless to fully succeed him as heir. Tancredi on the other hand is mentioned very affectionately in Don Fabrizio's last thoughts. He represents a new hope in what otherwise would have been great despair, stating at the beginning of the novel the paradox 'Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi'(p50). It is he who embraces the new changes of the period and encourages Don Fabrizio's character to progress as he accepts change. He fights alongside Garibaldi and also marries Angelica, a woman of low social class but of high economic status due to the rise in the working middle classes. Don Fabrizio puts his hopes in his nephew to carry on the family name.
In addition to Don Fabrizio's death being a parallel of the historical decline, the passage also relates to the decline of prestige and wealth of the author's own family. During the course of the nineteenth century, Lampedusa's family saw its prestige and wealth decline, which finally led to the death of his great grandfather Prince Giulio. It could be interpreted that the novel is based on his great grandfather's death however it also has links to Lampedusa's own life as Marrone states 'He had no offspring, but shortly before his death adopted as his heir his young cousin Gioacchino Lanza.' (Marrone, p1879). He himself had no sons of his own which is similar to Don Fabrizio's belief that he has no one to carry on the family line.
Whilst being a largely historical novel, this passage also gives an insight into Don Fabrizio's psychology. As he is reflecting on 'le pagliuzze d'oro dei momenti felici' (p243), he mentions his countless days at his observatory. Throughout the novel, astrology has been a leisurely escape from the harsh realities of his day to day life. The stars and planets to him represent a form of permanence; no matter how quickly life changes on earth he can always gaze to the sky and expect to see things just as they should be which is how he would like to view the aristocracy and his family name. Another of his positive reflections is his sensuality. His strong desires for beautiful women are noted all through the novel, for example the meetings with his mistress and his longing for his nephew's wife Angelica. In this passage, he reminisces about a woman at a train station in Catania and then just before he dies, he sees 'una giovane signora: snella, con un vestito marrone da viaggio' (p245) with the same description appear who comes to take him away. This woman could possibly be Angelica, the unattainable woman he had always longed to possess however she could also be Venus as he states 'gli apparve più bella di come mai l'avesse intravista negli spazi stellari.'(p245). Venus is also mentioned at the end of the preceding chapter when Don Fabrizio asks himself 'Quando si sarebbe decisa a dargli un appuntamento meno effimero, lontano dai torsoli dal sangue, nella propria regione di perenne certezza?' (p232). Here Don Fabrizio is linking both his astrological and sensual passions together, forming a peaceful and almost joyful end to his life. It could also been viewed that Venus is escorting him to his place in the sky, so that he can finally be what he has always dreamed of becoming, a permanent fixture in an otherwise vastly changing world. This is evident if we consider his earlier statement in this passage when he describes astrology as 'un'elargizione anticipate delle beatitudini mortuarie' (p244). Don Fabrizio's love of mathematics also makes an appearance in this passage, as he calculates the number of years he has really lived, resulting as three years out of seventy two, showing a certain amount of bitterness for his life. However there appears to be a tone of acceptance in his inner monologue. The whole novel is full of indecisiveness and of conflicting sentiments however here there is a sense of conclusion and acceptance about his life.
He also mentions affectionately the numerous family dogs he has owned in the past, particularly 'la deliziosa di Benedicò' (p244). Lampedusa uses animal imagery to portray Don Fabrizio's desire for eternality. Whilst an era is collapsing and new beginnings are rife, the dog remains the same, unaffected by change, even after Benedicò's death, he is embalmed, encasing the memories and history of the period. However in the subsequent and ultimate chapter, we see an aged Concetta cast away the rotting mummy, and as she throws it out, it takes the form of a leopard and 'si sarebbe potuto vedere danzare nell'aria' (p268) before disintegrating into dust, using the animal imagery of the leopard family emblem to mark the true end to the era rather than solely an individual as seen in this passage. This is also portrayed through the discarding of holy relics from the Salina household, by the declaration that 'non hanno valore alcuno' (p267). However by reflecting on the final chapter, the era cannot be completely forgotten, as it is mentioned that a Salina placard will be displayed at the fiftieth anniversary of The Thousand by the Mayor of Salina, therefore keeping the memory of the Salina family alive and fusing it with the new Italy.
In conclusion, Lampedusa manages to portray the decline of a class effectively through the death of the protagonist Don Fabrizio. Lampedusa illustrates this through the constant death and animal imagery used throughout the novel, leading to a climax in this passage, creating a growing consciousness of the themes of endings and change. Although the passage is predominantly negative, Lampedusa generates a certain contentment and positivity at Don Fabrizio's final acceptance to his death and the decline of aristocracy and at the possible prolongation of the family prestige brought about by his nephew Tancredi. The passage also keeps a positive tone by bringing together Don Fabrizio's passions- sensuality and astrology leading to a beautiful woman symbolising Venus taking him away. This also gives the impression that although the novel is about endings and change, Don Fabrizio also achieves a state of permanence by being taken away to the stars. By reflecting on the subsequent chapter, it can also be said that although Don Fabrizio's death brings about an ending to the family name, a placard at an anniversary celebration ensures the Salina family is not entirely forgotten.