Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin


Louis De Bernières

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Louis De Bernières's Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Louis De Bernières

De Bernières was born just outside of London and grew up in Surrey. Though he joined the army when he was 18, he only made it four months in the officer training course and then moved on to attending several universities, including Victoria University of Manchester and the University of London. He held a number of odd jobs, including that of a mechanic and an English teacher in Colombia, before turning to writing full-time in the late 1980s. His experiences in Colombia influenced his first three novels, known collectively as the Latin American Trilogy. He's most famous for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, though he openly disapproves of the film adaptation. De Bernières has never been married but has two children with the actress Cathy Gill. He also plays a number of instruments and though he considers himself to be just an enthusiastic amateur, a majority of his novels illustrate his love of music.
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Historical Context of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is based primarily on the Italian occupation of Cephalonia during World War Two and, specifically, the Massacre of the Acqui Division (also known as the Cephalonia Massacre). Prior to occupying Cephalonia, the Italians invaded Albania in what was widely considered to be a poorly thought-out plan; Carlo and Francisco are involved in this invasion, and they also participate in the invasion of Greece from Albania in the fall of 1940. The formal occupation of Greece began in 1941, and the division headquarters moved to Cephalonia in the spring of 1943. In the fall, however, Italy deposed their fascist dictator Mussolini and surrendered to the Allied forces--though things were complicated by the fact that Italy also promised its troops to the Germans. After the Italian troops on Cephalonia threatened mutiny if they were forced to cooperate with the Germans, General Gandin, the commanding officer of the Acqui Division, agreed to stand and attempt to defeat the Germans. This resulted in a conflict that lasted several days in which local Greeks fought alongside Italians but ultimately lost. The Italians that survived the fighting were murdered in what became one of the largest prisoner of war massacres of World War Two. Following the war, Greece descended into a civil war that's considered to be one of the first proxy wars of the Cold War. The pro-west faction effectively won in 1949, though Greece's economy was devastated by the conflict for decades after and still experiences political polarization because of the war today.

Other Books Related to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

De Bernières has specifically cited the work of Gabriel García Márquez as an influence on his own novels; a number of García Márquez’s books utilize magical realism and while Captain Corelli's Mandolin doesn't technically utilize the form, critics have noted that the larger-than-life characters in the novel would fit easily in a work that did. The novel itself makes a number of references to classic Greek works, most notably Plato's Symposium. Carlo mentions Dante's Inferno as well. In that the novel deals with civilian life in a time of war, Captain Corelli's Mandolin also shares similarities with Euripides's play The Trojan Women. It also joins a number of contemporary novels that explore love and the human cost of World War Two, including Ian McEwan's Atonement and Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Key Facts about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
  • Full Title: Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Corelli's Mandolin in the U.S.)
  • When Written: 1993-94
  • Where Written: Surrey, England
  • When Published: 1994
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: The Greek island of Cephalonia, 1930s-1990s
  • Climax: Günter Weber's firing squad kills Corelli's division; Carlo saves Corelli
  • Antagonist: Hitler, Mussolini, cold, hunger
  • Point of View: Various

Extra Credit for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

The Earthquake. Though characters in the novel express fear after the great earthquake of 1953 that Cephalonia is going to sink into the sea, the opposite happened: the entire island actually rose two feet higher out of the water.

Cat Haters. Mussolini was a known hater of cats. The American journalist John Gunter wrote in 1936 that "the things that Mussolini hates most are Hitler, aristocrats, money, cats, and old age."