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Captain Corelli's Mandolin

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Corelli's Mandolin
Author(s) Louis de Bernières
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Historical, Romance, War novel
Publication date 1993
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)

Captain Corelli's Mandolin, a 1993 novel written by Louis de Bernières, is a story about an Italian captain (Antonio Corelli) and the daughter (Pelagia) of the local physician (Dr. Iannis) on the island of Kefalonia set against the background of the Italian/German occupation of the island during World War II.

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 avoids explicit judgement of them as individuals. Many of the characters, despite committing atrocities, are viewed as victims of bad circumstance - people caught between death and following orders.

For example, the character Gunter Weber carries a great degree of sympathy from the writer, despite the fact that he fully engages with the Nazi ideology and is guilty of taking part in the killing of an entire Italian regiment, yet it is known that he has become friends with the people of this regiment - yet he must follow orders. This is shown in both the titles of the chapters in which he appears "The Good Nazi", his moral scruples and reverses of decision in that he at first hates the Italians for surrendering then tries to convince his superior not to kill them, citing examples of international law.

Similarly Mandras, the young fisherman to whom Pelagia is engaged before the war, is guilty of murder, torture, and rape, yet the author portrays him sympathetically, showing him to be more a victim of circumstance "just another life tarnished... by war" than a one-dimensional 'bad guy'.

This said, many other characters are portrayed in a not-so-flattering light, such as Mussolini, shown to be petty, uncultured and irrational despite his pretensions towards 'sensitivity' and intellectualism, or Hector (or the andartes who take Dr. Iannis away), who is brutal and takes no responsibility for his actions despite his confessed belief in the brotherly love of the Communist ideology.

Major Characters

  • Dr. Iannis - The Island's unofficial doctor who spends a lot of his spare time writing about the history of Cephallonia. He is well respected by the rest of the Island.
  • Pelagia - Dr. Iannis' daughter who is not like the other women on the island (she was well educated and has a lot of respect from her father), who at first falls in love with Mandras, then later with Antonio.
  • Mandras - A young, handsome fisherman who falls in love with Pelagia, only to destroy their relationship by going to fight in the war.
  • Carlo - A homosexual Italian soldier who falls in love with Francesco only to lose him to the war. He later falls in love with and dies for Corelli.
  • Antonio Corelli - An Italian captain with a love for music and life. He detests the war, gradually falls in love with Pelagia but the war inevitably tears them apart again.

Major themes

Corelli's Mandolin deals with a wide variety of themes from politics and history to romance. 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 criterion 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 homosexuality is also a recurring issue as Carlo deals with his inner feelings. The reason the character joins the Italian army is so that he might meet a man who he can love and indeed he does; he falls in love with Francesco. Upon Francesco's death Carlo is almost driven to suicide until he meets Corelli and falls in love once more. The character Carlo seems ill at ease with his sexuality and only confesses his love to Francesco as he (Francesco) is dying from a fatal wound and to Corelli once he himself is dead.

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."

Another theme of the novel is the study of history. This can be seen through the character of Dr. Iannis who 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. There is also a strong feeling against 'professional' history which is suggested by Carlo Guercio's statement that "I know that if we [the axis] win then there will be stories about mass graves in London and vice versa". This is reinforced by De Bernières' quote that: "history ought to be made up of the stories of ordinary people only." From this view point it can be seen that de Bernières as very much a revisionist historian, considering social history superior to that of political.


The novel has received a great deal of critical acclaim, markedly more so than any of de Bernières' other works. 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 Navy Mariano Barletta. De Bernières denies all knowledge of this account before writing Captain Corelli's Mandolin but the extraordinary similarity between the two stories leaves the veracity of the claim ambiguous.

Also, some criticism has been aimed at the general letdown or even the depressing tone at the ending of the novel, with Pelagia realising she has wasted her life, and now in her sixties, can do nothing more with what is left of her life. However, there has also been support for this ending as it is not usually typical for such a romantic novel to end so bluntly nor without a cliched resolution, portraying a closer to real life situation.


1995- Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book



The novel was adapted as four 45-minute radio plays from 17-20 September 2007 on BBC Radio 4, having been chosen as a popular 'Book of the Week' on the same station some years earlier. The episode titles were "A Pea in the Ear," "Invasion of the Italians," "Looking for Snails" and "Earthquake." It was narrated by Tom Goodman-Hill, with Celia Meiras as Pelagia, Stephen Greif as Dr Iannis, Daniel Philpott as Corelli. The mandolin music for it was composed and performed by Alison Stephens, and the production was produced and directed by David Hunter. Other cast members included:

  • Carlo - Anthony Psaila
  • Mandras - Chris Pavlo
  • Velisarios - Alexi Kaye Campbell
  • Father Arsenios - Alex Zorbas
  • Lemoni - Ania Gordon
  • Drosoula - Anna Savva
  • Hector - Nitin Ganatra
  • Officer - Simon Treves


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 starred Christian Bale and Irene Papas. It was directed by John Madden. It was received poorly by critics and the general public.

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