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Captain Corelli's Mandolin

From Academic Kids

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a novel by Louis de Bernières. It is a love story about an Italian captain [Antonio Corelli] and the daughter [Pelagia] of the local physician [Dr. Iannis] on the island Cephallonia. It is set against the background of the Italian/German occupation of the island during World War II. It was written by Louis de Bernieres in 1993 and follows many of the conventions of the modern novel. Most notable is de Bernieres' ambiguity to heroes and villains. Following the traits of the modern novel, de Bernieres presents characters rather than stereotypes and allows us to create our own judgement of them as individuals. Subsequently many of the characters are viewed sympathetically despite committing atrocities. For example Gunter Weber carries a great degree of pathos, despite the fact that he fully engages with the Nazi ideology and is guilty of slaughtering the entire Italian regiment, nicknamed La Scala due to the simplistic orchestra of which they are all members. Similarly Mandras, the young fisherman to whom Pelagia is engaged before the war, is guilty of murder and attempted rape, yet we still view him with a great degree of sympathy.

Running through this novel are a great variety of themes. The theme of love is explored all throughout the novel. We see the initial love between Pelagia and Mandras, which burns out as a result of the war, and the change it prompts in both of them. We come to realise that this was a relationship based on lust rather than love. Corelli and Pelagia's love is the central focus of the novel, developing slowly. The endurance of this love despite the physical degredation of both characters makes us feel a much deeper sense of love than at the beginning. Love is described by Dr. Iannis as, "what is left when the passion has gone," and it certainly appears that this criteria is fulfilled by the love of Corelli and Pelagia. The paternal love of Iannis for Pelagia is also strong and is heavily compared and contrasted to that of Corelli's. The theme of music is predominant, offering a direct contrast to the horror and destruction that the war brings, showing how something beautiful can arise from something horrible. The war is described in a great amount of graphic detail, particularly the death of Francesco. It is responisble for the fall of Mandras and Weber, and for the death of Carlo and Francesco. It is also responsible for the seperation of Pelagia and Corelli. Throughout the novel de Bernieres takes a harsh view of all forms of totalitarianism, condemning both Fascism, Nazism, and Communism alike. De Bernieres described this as a novel about: "what happens to the little people when megalomaniacs get busy." De Bernieres also uses this novel as an opportunity to discuss the study of history. His most philiosophical character, Dr. Iannis, spends much of his spare time attempting to write a history of Cephellonia. However he usually finds his personal feelings and biases running through whatever he writes, mirroring de Berniers feelings on the inevitable subjectivity of history. There is also a strong feeling against "professional history" as de Bernieres finds it corruptable and misleading. He is quoted as saying that: "history ought to be made up of the stories of ordinary people only." From this view point we see de Bernieres as very much a revisionist historian, considering social history superior to that of political.

From a critical point of view the novel has received a great deal of acclaim, certainly more than any of de Bernieres' other work, such as 'Birds Without Wings'. However some have suggested that the story of 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' is plagiarised from a remarkably similar true account written by a former captain in the Italian Army. De Bernieres denies all knowledge of this account before writing 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' but the extraordinary similarity between the two stories leaves many with a great scepticism as to whether this is true.


A movie version of Captain Corelli's Mandolin was released in 2001, with Nicolas Cage as the Italian Captain Corelli, John Hurt as Dr Iannis, and Penelope Cruz as his daughter, Pelagia. It also stars Christian Bale and Irene Papas. It was directed by John Madden.

The Italian film Mediterraneo also features Italian occupants in a idyllic Greek island.

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