Sicilian Love: the leopard and his mum

Giuseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, loves his mum. When she says ‘come’, he comes, when she says ‘go’, he goes.

Unfortunately, in 1931, Giuseppe falls in love with another woman. Now when his mum wants him to stay in Palermo and he wants to meet his secret crush in Rome, he asks a friend to send him a spoof urgent request to visit, to provide him cover.

Surely Princess Beatrice would love to see her 36-year-old son get married and produce grandchildren, so why doesn’t Giuseppe just tell his mum about the other woman?

It’s not that simple. The other woman is Baroness Licy Wolff.  She’s neither a commoner, nor an actress, dancer, or singer (highly frowned-upon by aristocratic mothers of the day), and she’s a step-cousin – and we all know that aristocrats love to marry within the family, but…

The other woman: Licy Wolff

…Licy is not Sicilian. She comes from the Baltic. Ouch.

And she’s a career woman: an innovative psychoanalyst. Double ouch.

And she’s already married. Triple, eye-popping ouch!

Never mind that Giuseppe and Licy share a love for psychoanalysis and literature and understand each other deeply. Never mind that Licy’s marriage is a façade, arranged by family for reasons of convenience and never consummated. Never mind that her husband, a cousin, is homosexual and would be only too happy to break the bond.

When Giuseppe writes to his mother about Licy – cunningly dropping hints about Licy’s 60,000 lire yearly income, extensive estates and her willingness to move to Italy – Princess Beatrice icily ignores his letter. Little does she know that her son has uncharacteristically taken initiative without her consent and has already married Licy.

In her Baltic castle. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.

Eventually, Giuseppe obtains a family meeting to introduce his new wife. Princess Beatrice demands that the couple settles in the family palace in Palermo. Can Licy abandon her Baltic castle and her patients, renounce her beloved profession and live under the shadow of her Sicilian mother-in-law, with whom she must share her husband?

Of course not. She tries, bless her, but she can’t. Like all couples, Giuseppe and Licy have to find a solution that works for them. Even if it makes them the talk of the city, even if people around them don’t understand. Licy spends most of the year up in her Baltic estate, while Giuseppe stays in Palermo with his mum and reaches her only for the summer. Then, WWII arrives and things get even more messy. Licy leaves the Baltic and joins her husband and her mother-in-law in Sicily. Bombs half-destroy the ancestral palace but Princess Beatrice insists on returning there and dies soon after.

Licy and Giuseppe buy another palace, restore it, and move in together. Finally. Being the kind of people they are, they carry on doing the things they love: Giuseppe continues to attend regular meetings with other intellectuals in various cafes of the city, and Licy starts a psychoanalysis practice in Palermo, while in the evenings she tries – unsuccessfully– to reproduce Russian dishes. Their schedules mean that they don’t cross each other much during the day but, hey, who cares? They’re already the most unconventional couple in Palermo.  And they love each other.

Giuseppe and Licy, Palermo, 1930s

Giuseppe dies in 1957, only a few months before his novel, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is finally published and gathers immense success and posthumous literary prizes.

Featured photo: screenshot from the 1963 movie The Leopard, with Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon

Check out my collection of short stories set in Sicily, now available also as Audio book and Large Print!


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