“Thoughts” by Giacomo Leopardi

leopardiI had never heard of Leopardi before picking up this book – to be honest, I was seduced by the beautiful desert picture on the cover, and also the blurb’s promise of amazing philosophical and psychological insights. What I got was basically the notebook of an intelligent, thoughtful person. There were some interesting ideas, but nothing was fully formed or developed enough to be particularly interesting to me. The book did a good job of skewering social pretensions and shallowness, but that was nothing particularly new. The book was unfinished in Leopardi’s lifetime, and perhaps the finished version would have been brilliant. This sequence of half-formed thoughts and bons mots, however, was just a quick and not particularly satisfying read.

6 thoughts on ““Thoughts” by Giacomo Leopardi

  1. That’s too bad about it being unfinished. I would hate to have any of my unfinished work published. That’s a scary thought.

    Thanks for the insights and review!

  2. Hi Claire! Not that I know of, although when I’m reading a book I don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to who the publisher is. I love the concept, though, of publishing short classic works by “neglected” authors. And, as I said, the book was beautifully put together. So I’d love to read more Hesperus books – any recommendations?

    Lady Glamis, I know exactly what you mean. If somebody published my current work-in-progress novel right now I would be truly mortified! I’ve read quite a few unfinished books published posthumously and they are rarely satisfying – even if most of the material was completed in the writer’s lifetime, the final editing process is missing, and that’s very important. I heard there’s a “new” Kerouac book coming out next year, and can’t help wondering why it was unpublished for 50 years and why it’s being published now. On the other hand, I’m glad that Kafka’s instruction in his will to burn all of his manuscripts was ignored – sometimes writers are not the best judges of the merits of their work!

  3. I haven’t read any Hesperus myself, but I just browsed through their catalog and there are so many wonderful authors featured, with their lesser know works. (Dickens, Flaubert, Dostoevksy, James, Tolstoy, Woolf, etc!) I’m eyeing Rabindranath Tagore’s Boyhood Days, a memoir seen through his younger self.

  4. Together with Galileo Galilei and Daniello Bartoli, Leopardi is one the greatest Italian prose writers of all times (and he is also on the greatest Italian poets). To really appreciate Leopardi, you should read it in Italian. Translations are only bridges, it’s up to you to get on the other side. Pensieri is one of my favorite books ever, the prose is a masterpiece. I looked at the English translation of Pensieri, and it’s competent enough, but makes of a different book, a lighter read, all the complexity and irony (in the Romantic sense of the word) of the prose lost. Another recommended book by Leopardi, again in Italian: Zibaldone di pensieri.
    About Leopardi: read what Calvino writes of his prose in his Lezioni americane.

    1. Hi Luca

      Thanks for commenting. It’s very interesting to hear how much gets lost in the translation of this book. It’s been a few years since I wrote this post so I can’t remember much about the book now, but I do remember that it seemed surprisingly light. The Italian version sounds much more complex and interesting. As you say, translations are only bridges, and this one, it seems, is a little rickety.

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