Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo is by no means the kind of text that invites the reader to take it lightly and straightforwardly. The subtle irony running through the piece constantly implores the reader to interpret and re-interpret various scenes and the characters within them—in fact, in a letter to his friend Enrico Merlo dated May 30, 1957, Lampedusa writes of Il Gattopardo that “ogni parola è stata pesata e molte cose non sono dette chiaramente ma solo accennate.” More specifically, I plan to argue that Lampedusa employs irony on the narrative level through the ordering of scenes, and that he furthermore facilitates ironical interpretation on the part of the reader through the narrator's limited presentation of characters' inner consciousness. While initially it is unclear how Lampedusa intends the reader to extract the truth of a scene from the irony layered over it, he ultimately provides his reader with the means for doing so through both the narrator's commentary and character behavior and dialogue.
[...] It is important to note that Lampedusa injects an ironical twist immediately after Tancredi's comment when he adds fosse proprio ‘basta' non era vero; però Tancredi parlava sincero; con l'abitudine atavica ai larghi possessi gli sembrava davvero che Gibildolce, Settesoli e i sacchetti di tela fossero stati suoi dai tempi di Carlo d'Angiò, da sempre” (pp.169-70). The irony, however, targets the mindset common to nobles like Tancredi, not the wealth or background of the Sedàra. p.264. p.139. p.169. Consider the scene, for example, on page 156 in which Cavriaghi presents Concetta with the book of poetry. [...]
[...] Accordingly, when Don Calogero mentions Sedàra “nobility” to the Prince in the subsequent scene, the reader cannot help but recall the still-fresh image madri selvagge e di nonni fecali.” Lampedusa could have just as easily placed Don Ciccio's account sometime after Don Calogero's improntitudine; in placing it immediately before, he urges the reader to interpret the entire conversation between Prince Fabrizio and Don Calogero with an eye to the complete irony of the situation—that is, that Angelica is not only a commoner but the descendent of Peppe 'Mmerda, and that Prince Fabrizio has this knowledge fresh in mind as Don Calogero babbles on about the attacco mancato of Sedàra nobility. [...]
[...] More specifically, the reader learns both that Tancredi is initially clueless to whom the term baronessina refers, and that his response to Cavriaghi is motivated by the ribellione of principe in lui.” His momentary confusion, coupled with the fact that he calls the Sedàra sangue nuovo in an earlier letter to Prince Fabrizio, allows the reader to conclude that Tancredi must know the Sedàra are not a noble family. However, the phrase principe in lui si ribellò” is anything but straightforward. [...]
[...] It is worth noting that Tancredi's use of the word veramente in front of buono also implies that Angelica might not be as buona as Cavriaghi praises her to be. Of course, the reader is predisposed to this interpretation given several comments made by the narrator regarding, for example, Angelica's future as delle più viperine Egerie di Montecitorio e della Consulta” (p.149). There always remains, of course, the possibility that Cavriaghi is nonetheless being ironic, at least insofar as someone might occasionally take to behaving in ways completely out of character. [...]
[...] Thus, the narrator presupposes an intelligent reader—at the very least one who can pick up on subtle grammatical cues and is well-versed in Italian sociopolitical history. Accordingly, he does not explicitly tell the reader the truth of the scene—that the attacco mancato is nothing but bribery and forgery—because he has confidence that the reader can derive the proper conclusions herself. Of course, I do not mean to suggest that the reader is limited to the narrator's commentary—rather, for any scene, the particular characters themselves also often serve to decrease ambiguity through the consistency of their behavior and dialogue. [...]
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