The Professor and the Siren

The Professor and the Siren

by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Stephen Twilley, Marina Warner

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An NYRB Classics Original

In the last two years of his life, the Sicilian aristocrat Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote not only the internationally celebrated novel The Leopard but also three shorter pieces of fiction, brought together here in a new translation.

“The Professor and the Siren,” like The Leopard,…  See more details below


An NYRB Classics Original

In the last two years of his life, the Sicilian aristocrat Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote not only the internationally celebrated novel The Leopard but also three shorter pieces of fiction, brought together here in a new translation.

“The Professor and the Siren,” like The Leopard, meditates on the past and the passage of time, and also on the relationship between erotic love and learning. Professor La Ciura is one of the world’s most distinguished Hellenists; his knowledge, however, came at the cost of a loss that has haunted him for his entire life. This Lampedusa’s final masterpiece, is accompanied here by the parable “Joy and the Law” and “The Blind Kittens,” a story originally conceived as the first chapter of a followup to The Leopard.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The reputation of Sicilian writer Lampedusa rests entirely on his lone novel The Leopard, written at the end of his life and published posthumously. That said, the title story from this slim collection is a classic of weird fiction revolving around Italian Senator Rosario La Ciura, an eminent Greek scholar and surely one of the most memorable old cranks in literature. His insolent diatribes are gorgeously rendered—making it all the more jarring when they give way to a moving recollection of his love affair with a magical and wild creature whose memory beckons the scholar from the deep. “Joy and the Law” is a vaguely condescending workplace fable about a hapless clerk who spends his meager earnings returning the generosity of an employer; and “The Blind Kittens” isn’t a story at all, but the first chapter of an unfinished novel concerning the wealthy Don Batassano Ibba, whose holdings may be as exaggerated as the stories the locals tell of his mysterious lifestyle. The recent memory of Italian fascism lurks in the background of these posthumously published stories, which, taken for what they are, reinforce Lampedusa’s acknowledged mastery of prose—but only the title story extends it. (July)
From the Publisher
“An enigmatic, tantalizing and haunting tale of rare beauty which glints like a finely cut crackles with erotic tension.” —Joseph Farrell, The Times Literary Supplement

“Lampedusa has made me realize how many ways there are of being alive.... ‘The Professor and the Siren’ is an exquisite fantasy and a sustained one.”—E. M. Forster

“‘The Professor and the Siren’ seems to me a masterpiece.” —Edmund Wilson

“A work of outstanding laconic eccentricity....Lampedusa wrote two masterpieces and this is the other one.” —Nicholas Blincoe, The Telegraph
“[Lampedusa] comes so marvellously close to the people and scenes he describes because he conveys, in the manner of classical artists, the hard gleam of inaccessibility that makes human beings and nature itself seem final and alone.” —V. S. Pritchett
“After a long and thoughtful accumulation of time and passions, skirting the straits of history and politics, [Lampedusa] recreated an entire epoch, filling his pages with tapestries of crystalline and lasting beauty.” —Edna O’Brien, Financial Times

Kirkus Reviews
Three parablelike pieces of short fiction from Lampedusa (1896-1957), best known for The Leopard (1958), his sweeping novel about Sicilian aristocracy.This trio of stories doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to determine if Lampedusa could have been a great short-form writer, but each is marked by an ironic wit and the intimate knowledge of Italian class distinctions that infuses The Leopard. “The Professor and the Siren” is narrated by a young journalist who allows himself to be routinely browbeaten for his ignorance by an aging scholar of ancient Greece. Set during the rise of fascism in Italy, the tale is an allegory about the perils of forgetting the past, but Lampedusa gives that message a lively and subtle cast, turning on the scholar’s alleged encounter with a mermaid. “Joy and the Law” is a brief comic story about a man whose Christmas bonus includes a large cake that proves to be a burdensome reminder of his obligations to others, and it’s as light as its “easy come, easy go” message. The closing, “The Blind Kittens,” is made of much more ambitious stuff and was written as the first chapter of a follow-up to The Leopard. Centered on the Ibba family, whose rapacious land grabs have made it one of the most powerful forces in Sicily, the story follows a group of men gossiping. As they exchange “envies, grudges, fears,” they also share rumors about the clan, and in their chatter lays a hint of a widescreen epic that would capture the family’s rise to power. But it has punch as a stand-alone story about jealousy, with a glint of humor: “[E]ach of them wished for Ibba’s millions so that others would invent similarly sumptuous lies about him,” Lampedusa writes.Three entertaining sketches, though mostly of interest to fans of The Leopard.

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Meet the Author

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896–1957) was a Sicilian nobleman, the Duke of Palma, and the last Prince of Lampedusa. He was born in Palermo to an aristocratic family whose fortunes began to decline in the 1800s with the passage of laws breaking up large Sicilian estates. Lampedusa served as an Italian artillery officer during World War I and was captured by the Austrians and held briefly in a prison camp in Hungary. He remained in the Italian military until 1921 and spent the interwar years traveling through Europe and attempting to restore the family estate. During World War II , the Tomasi palace in Palermo was bombed and looted by Allied troops. In the last two years of his life, Lampedusa began writing and produced his great historical novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), as well as several short literary works, none of which were published during his lifetime. Two years after Lampedusa’s death, The Leopard won the Strega Prize and became a worldwide best seller.

Stephen Twilley is the managing editor of Public Culture and Public Books. His translations from the Italian include Francesco Pacifico’s The Story of My Purity and Marina Mander’s The First True Lie.

Marina Warner’s studies of religion, mythology, and fairy tales include Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, From the Beast to the Blonde, and No Go the Bogeyman. In 2013 she co-edited Scheherazade’s Children: Global Encounters with the Arabian Nights. A Fellow of the British Academy, she is also a professor in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex.

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