The old political order was called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Then came the invasion of Garibaldi. Then the new Kingdom of Italy.
The story is told from the point of view of the aristocrats, on whom it concentrates, to the almost complete exclusion of the rest. But aristocracy is a part of a greater political whole & cannot receive its full meaning except in this comprehensive political setting. – Aristocracy both helps & hinders this effort to move from the self-presentation & self-understanding of the aristocrats to the understanding of the political whole. Aristocrats are aloof, independent, & therefore claim rather that they are a whole apart from the political whole, or that they are whole by themselves. But the aristocrat also claims to be at the top or the center of the city & to speak for it authoritatively, or else he would have no claim to rule.
This will likely show a great change & a great conflict; this separation between old & new may be exaggerated.
A story of revolution
The story starts with prayers. The place is an aristocratic palace in Sicily. The family is all gathered, intoning alongside the priest the Christian prayers, in Latin. Some have prayer books. Men & women alike kneel on the floor for the prayer, though the palace apparently does not have a private chapel.
Worldly news interrupts the prayers. A fearful old valet says grave disorders are threatening the land – a dead soldier has been found on the estate – another aristocrat has written a letter, bringing revolutionary tidings: Garibaldi’s men, the Piedmontese, are coming. The aristocrats are lost. God save the king. – The news compelled the duke to abandon his estates & flee in English ships. He recommends as much to our protagonist, his Excellency the Prince Salina, Fabrizio, in his letter, & refers him to the newspaper for more information. Newspapers & revolution are naturally connected. Fabrizio receives the advice with more contempt than disappointment, calling the man a coward.
The women are crying hysterically. Garibaldi – an omen or a curse in their mouths. The priest first says: Revolution. He shows no fear. The women faint; cordials are needed. The men have to occupy their palaces, the prince decides. The women are terrified. They have recourse to prayer.
Fabrizio dislikes the priest as much as the priest dislikes his nephew, Tancredi. But they agree that the times are evil. The Church is enervating men. Fabrizio, for example, does not look from sin to God, but to human nature: The nature of man & woman. This has been vitiated by woman’s piety, which priests indulge. Fabrizio, therefore, agrees implicitly with young Tancredi: Men must be men. But they disagree on the politics. The old man thinks the boy is going to a duel – the aristocratic habit of killing for honor, in preparation for serving as officers in war – but the youth is going to fight the revolution. He is going to the mountains. The old man insists on his own flag, not the republican or national flag, & on the old order, although he despises the king. So it is that the old order is left defenseless. The merits of the new order are not yet clear. Fabrizio calls the revolutionaries mafiosi.
The priest accuses the prince of liberal sympathies, even Masonic: The secularist enemies of Church power. Well, he threatens, if the throne will abandon the altar, the altar will return the favor. Fabrizio jokes that Italy would do better without so many Jesuits. He does not believe the Church really defends the aristocrats. The distinction between the many & few has not disappeared & may simply be ineradicable. But who believes in the justice of the aristocrats? The Church occupies an impossible position between old & new: Its privileges come from the few, who only accord them because the many are believers, that is to say, for public order. But that order is now in disorder. The weakness of the few, however, shows also in this way: The only occurrence of the word virtue, the feminine adjective virtuosa, refers to chastity.
The revolution looks like civil war. Revolutionary infantry manages to win a bloody barricade fight against the monarchy’s cavalry. Aristocrats & priests are lynched in the streets. Revolutionary fire squads deal revolutionary justice in the smoldering ruins. Gunfire punctuates the desolation; occasionally, artillery pieces recall the real power of war.
The new republican orders include secret voting & new social arrangements, but the aristocrats endure, as there is still a king, if a new king. Still, they hunt with their hounds, saluting loyal hounds before their bourgeois owners, & keep company with priests. Their warlike inclinations & peacetime yoke endure. Tancredi moves from Garibaldi’s republican troops to the northern king’s regular army. He is again an aristocrat. Fabrizio thinks money could help the young man to a bright future: The changing times are not all bad.
The king’s government offers the prince a senatorship. He refuses: He is no politician, nor is Sicily fit for political rule, much less for political freedom. Movement & rest are not the modes of being in Sicily, but only dying & death. Necessity does not teach the people the way to overcome necessity. They wallow in misery. The government official promises modern government will change this. It is doubtful whether he understands the origins of modern politics: He certainly finds the difficulties it originally faced strange & fearful. One of the prince’s children terrifies him with tales of bandits, ransoms, & slaughter.
Tancredi then decides to run for office. He has married money; his beautiful wife is a success in the salons. He despises Garibaldi publicly & declares the new kingdom needs justice, legality, & order. Shooting men more loyal to Garibaldi than the kingdom is one of the more satisfying requirements of this new order. This is the endgame of his allusion: In order for things to stay the same, things must change.