Captain Corelli's Mandolin

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 of Cephallonia, and set against the background of the Italian/German occupation of the island during World War II. It was written by Louis de Bernières in 1993 and follows many of the conventions of the modern novel.

Most notable is de Bernières' ambiguity to heroes and villains. Following the traits of the modern novel, de Bernières 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 degradation 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 graphic detail, particularly the death of Francesco. It is responsible for the fall of Mandras and Weber, and for the deaths of Carlo and Francesco. It is also responsible for the separation of Pelagia and Corelli.

Throughout the novel de Bernières takes a harsh view of all forms of totalitarianism, condemning Fascism, Nazism, and Communism alike. De Bernières described this as a novel about: "what happens to the little people when megalomaniacs get busy."

De Bernières also uses this novel as an opportunity to discuss the study of history. His most philosophical character, Dr. Iannis, spends much of his spare time attempting to write a history of Cephallonia. However he usually finds his personal feelings and biases running through whatever he writes, mirroring de Bernières' feelings on the inevitable subjectivity of history. There is also a strong feeling against "professional history" as de Bernieres finds it corruptible 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 Bernières 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 Bernières' 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 Bernières 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.

In film

Captain Corellis Mandolin (2001)

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 Penélope Cruz as his daughter, Pelagia. It also stars Christian Bale and Irene Papas. It was directed by John Madden. The plot of the movie departed notably from that of the book.

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

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