A.n a gray winter morning at the end of January 1955, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – not the writer, but the protagonist of the same name in Steven Price’s novel “The Last Prince” – went to the doctor in Palermo. Dr. Coniglio has ordered him to have a lung function test and gently but without further ado teaches him that his fear has come true: “An emphysema. It may be stopped, but not cured. “Then he prescribes something for his patient to relieve the pain and urges him to stop smoking. Do sports regularly. To go for a walk. Eat less. Avoid worry and stress where you can. “
Leaning on his stick, Tomasi makes his way to the Flaccovio bookstore in Via Ruggero Settimo. A few corners down he lights a cigarette. The diagnosis does not leave him in peace: “The sudden, clear awareness of his own death filled him.” Contrary to his habit, he takes a detour and enters a church for the first time in thirty years: “He was depressed by how little of him would remain when he was dead. . . He, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, had produced nothing. “
At Caffè Mazzara he meets his cousin, the lyric poet Lucio Piccolo, and asks him “if he had ever thought about what was left of him after his death”. Absentmindedly, he confesses: “I always thought I’d write a novel.” He doesn’t tell his wife about emphysema, but varies the topic: “I’ve been thinking about children,” he says quietly, but she can’t laugh about it. She is sixty and he is 58 years old. In the evening he opens his notebook and begins to write: “It surprised him how easily the sentences came.”
Wrong facts about the submission
In the first episode, Steven Price adjusts the motives with which he believes he is tracking down the “late” writer and explaining the origin of his epoch novel “Il Gattopardo”: In the face of death, Tomasi feels a kind of panic at the end of the gate, and he pulls himself up to create something lasting. The context of the reasoning sounds plausible, schematic, even like a textbook. The only problem is that he is assuming false facts. In the writer’s latest biography (“Il principe di Lampedusa”, Palermo 2018), Salvatore Savoia writes that in the spring of 1957 the first signs of a lung tumor appeared, when the novel was just finished; and also the standard work “Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa” by Andrea Vitello (Palermo 1987), a medical graduate, dates the first symptoms of the disease to three months before his death on July 23, 1957.
An emphysema and a visit to the doctor in January 1955 are not documented. It doesn’t have to mean that it didn’t exist. But Tomasi already expressed the impulse to write his novel at a writers’ meeting in mid-July 1954 in San Pellegrino Terme, where he had accompanied the cousin invited by Eugenio Montale. He had even carried the material around with him for a long time: the poet Maria Luisa Spaziani remembers that Lucio Piccolo feared that his family would “let him die of a broken heart just like poor Giuseppe, who did us twenty years before he started writing , among the yawns of everyone who told ‘Gattopardo’ ”.