David Gilmour writes about the fiction of Lampedusa and Sciascia

Two of the finest works of post-war Sicilian fiction were published in Italy in 1958: Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard and Leonardo Sciascia’s Sicilian Uncles, a collection of three (in subsequent editions four) stories dealing with themes from Sicily’s history and experience of foreign intervention which had also interested Lampedusa.[*] Sciascia, however, did not see any connection between the two books. In a review of Lampedusa’s novel he accused the dead prince of having had a ‘congenital and sublime indifference’ towards the peasants and of sharing his protagonist’s view of them as ants. Unlike Verga, who could not finish La Duchessa di Leyra because he was unable to manage aristocratic dialogue, Lampedusa could not make the poor talk because he knew nothing about them. Even worse, he understood little about Sicilian history. It was absurd, according to Sciascia, for Lampedusa’s Don Fabrizio to talk about Sicilians in the days of the ‘Muslim imams’ as if their character had hardly changed over the subsequent millennium – a perfectly reasonable point, though one that came oddly from Sciascia, who in a contemporary essay on Pirandello was writing: ‘Undoubtedly the inhabitants of the island of Sicily began to behave like Sicilians after the Arab conquest.’

In an article on Verga in 1960, Sciascia repeated his allegation that Lampedusa and Pirandello had written historical novels without having had much ‘idea about history’, and a few years later he said he could not understand why Visconti had wanted to make a film of The Leopard. Surely, he argued, Visconti’s views on modern Sicilian history (like Sciascia’s at the time) were closer to the optimistic interpretation put forward by Rosario Romeo in Il Risorgimento in Sicilia? Later still, in an article on the poet Lucio Piccolo, Sciascia accused Lampedusa of tampering with historical events: between Piccolo and Lampedusa (who were first cousins), he concluded, ‘there is the difference between good faith and bad faith.’

The impression that Lampedusa and Sciascia were at opposite poles in their views on Sicily was encouraged by various critics. Enrico Falqui, one of The Leopard’s principal detractors, contrasted the pessimistic conservatism of Lampedusa with the ‘enlightened’ approach of Sciascia, while Giancarlo Vigorelli described Sciascia’s The Council of Egypt as ‘the reverse of The Leopard ... perhaps the book that The Leopard could have been and should have been’. But Sciascia himself was beginning to doubt whether he and Lampedusa really were so different. In the late Sixties favourable references to The Leopard began to appear in Sciascia’s articles on Sicily: there was, for example, much to be said for Lampedusa’s view of Sicilian irrationality and for his understanding of the Sicilian ‘sense of death’. Even among his critical remarks in the Piccolo essay, Sciascia had said that ‘we must unfortunately agree’ with the prince that instead of a genuine middle class Sicily had ‘a pack of jackals’ (which is not quite how Lampedusa put it). Don Calogero Sedara, the most unattractive of several unpleasant characters in The Leopard, became exalted as the typical product of that class of 19th-century ‘bourgeois-mafiosi’ which knew only how to devour and destroy. Ten years after the publication of The Leopard, Sciascia admitted that ‘Lampedusa was unfortunately right and we were wrong’ about Sicilian history, and later he applied Lampedusa’s view to the rest of Italy. In The Moro Affair Sciascia wrote ‘that the principle of “changing everything to change nothing” which Lampedusa’s prince saw as a constant in the history of Sicily ... can be seen today as a constant in the history of Italy.’ In 1979 Sciascia even quoted with approval the passage about the Muslim imams which had provoked such derision twenty years earlier.

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[*] Those of Sciascia’s books published this year, by Carcanet, are: One Way or Another (103 pp., £10.95, 20 August, 0 85635 664 6) and The Moro Affair/The Mystery of Majorana (175 pp., £9.95, 5 March, 0 85635 700 6).