Captain Corelli's Mandolin

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For the 2001 film, see Captain Corelli's Mandolin (film).
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Captain Corelli's Mandolin 1994 book cover.jpg
1st Edition front cover
Author Louis de Bernières
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical, Romance, War novel
Publisher Secker & Warburg
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 544
ISBN 0-436-20158-5

Captain Corelli's Mandolin, released simultaneously in the United States as Corelli's Mandolin,[1] is a novel of 1994[2] by the British writer Louis de Bernières, set on the Greek island of Cephallonia during the Italian and German occupation of the Second World War.

The main characters are Antonio Corelli, an Italian army captain, and Pelagia, the daughter of the local physician, Dr Iannis. An important event in the novel is the massacre of Italian troops by the Germans in September 1943 – the Italian Acqui Division had refused to surrender and had fought the Germans for nine days before running out of ammunition. Some 1,500 Italian soldiers died in the fighting, 5,000 were massacred after surrendering, and the rest were shipped to Germany, of whom 3,000 drowned when the ship carrying them hit a mine.

In 2003, the novel was listed at number 19 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.[3][dubious ]


The story begins with Dr Iannis, who practices on the Greek island of Cephallonia, and lives with his daughter Pelagia, whom he has taught to think for herself. The following chapters give insight into the political situation of the time (the second chapter, "The Duce" is entirely about Mussolini), introduce the reader to various characters such as Carlo Guercio, a homosexual soldier who goes to fight in Albania, and elaborate upon the life of the people of Cephallonia. Pelagia meets a young fisherman named Mandras, and they rapidly become engaged, though Pelagia seems more lustful than loving. Meanwhile, war has been declared, and Madras decides to go fight at the front. Pelagia's letters to him go unanswered.

In 1941, following the Italian invasion of Greece, Italian and German soldiers are posted to Cephallonia, where they are ostracized by the locals. Pelagia is determined to hate them, especially when a jovial young captain by the name of Antonio Corelli is assigned to live in her home. Mandras comes home from the war a wreck, and Pelagia nurses him, realising that she no longer loves him but incapable of admitting this to him. He admits that he is illiterate, explaining why he never answered Pelagia's letters. Soon after he is recovered, Mandras leaves again to join the underground. Pelagia gradually comes to know Corelli, and discovers that he is conscientious, civilised, humorous and far from fanatical, as well as being a consummate mandolin player. They inevitably fall in love, and become engaged, Pelagia being convinced that Mandras has died.

When the Italians join forces with the Allies, however, the German soldiers on Cephallonia turn on the Italians, and order a massive execution. Corelli's life is saved by Carlo Guercio, who shields him from the worst of the bullets. He has to stay hidden, and as soon as he is well enough, escapes to Italy, promising Pelagia that he will return as soon as the war ends to marry her, and leaving her Antonia, his mandolin, for safekeeping. The Germans become brutal, and Dr Iannis is sent to a camp. Mandras returns, indoctrinated with Communist ideals and having learnt to read. He has read Pelagia's letters and knows that she does not love him, so he tries to rape her. Ashamed, he later commits suicide. Some time after, a baby girl is left on Pelagia's doorstep which she adopts. Dr Iannis comes home traumatised. Life goes on in Cephallonia, momentarily interrupted by a major earthquake, but Corelli does not return, though Pelagia is convinced she sees his ghost. The baby girl, whom Pelagia has named Antonia, grows up and marries.

Many years later, an old man visits Pelagia, who is revealed to be Antonio Corelli, now a famous mandolin player. He explains that he did not visit before because, having seen her with baby Antonia on her doorstep and believing her to be married, he was bitter. The novel ends on a happy note.

Major themes[edit]

Captain Corelli's Mandolin explores many varieties of love. We see the initial lust-based love between Pelagia and Mandras, which burns out as a result of the war, and the change it prompts in both of them. Corelli and Pelagia's slow-developing love is the central focus of the novel. 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.

The theme of music is predominant, offering a direct contrast to the horror and destruction that the war brings and 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, the deaths of Carlo and Francesco, and the separation of Pelagia and Corelli.

Throughout the novel, Bernières takes a harsh view of all forms of totalitarianism, condemning Fascism, Nazism, and Communism alike. Bernières himself 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. Dr Iannis spends much of his spare time attempting to write a history of Cephallonia, but he often finds his personal feelings and biasses 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 a quotation from Bernières which says that: "history ought to be made up of the stories of ordinary people only." From this viewpoint, it can be seen that Bernières is very much a revisionist historian, considering social history superior to political history.

Bernières takes an ambiguous attitude towards heroism and villainy in the novel: many of the characters, despite committing atrocities, are viewed as human victims of bad circumstances. For example, the character Günter Weber receives a great degree of sympathy from the writer, even though he fully engages with the Nazi ideology and is guilty of taking part in the killing of an entire Italian division. Despite having become friends with many of the men, Weber must follow orders. Similarly, Mandras is guilty of murder, torture, and rape, yet the author portrays him sympathetically: "just another life tarnished... by war."

Major characters[edit]

  • Dr Iannis – The island's unofficial, unlicensed doctor, who spends much of his time writing about the history of Cephallonia. He is respected by the community, although regarded as a bit odd, and is thanked for his medical services by means of food and drink.
  • Pelagia – Dr Iannis's daughter, who is not like the other women on the island (she is well educated and has a lot of respect from her father), who at first falls in love with Mandras, then later with Corelli.
  • Antonio Corelli – An Italian captain with a love of music and life. He detests the war and gradually falls in love with Pelagia; but the war inevitably tears them apart again.
  • Mandras – A young, handsome fisherman who falls in love with Pelagia, only to destroy their relationship by going to fight in the war, and ultimately humiliating himself.
  • Carlo Piero Guercio – A good-natured homosexual Italian soldier who falls in love with Francesco only to lose him to the war. He later falls in love with Corelli and sacrifices his life to save the Captain's.


Near the end of the novel, in Chapter 62, Pelagia receives a photograph from Günter Weber and written on the back is a passage in German from Goethe's "Faust", Gretchen am Spinnrad, which is also a popular German Lied, set to music by Schubert. It reads:

Meine Ruh ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer,
Ich finde sie nimmer
und nimmermehr.

Which translates as:

My peace is gone,
My heart is sore [lit. "heavy"],
I will find it never
and nevermore.

Real story and precedents[edit]

Bernières has denied that the character of Corelli is based on Amos Pampaloni who was then an Italian artillery captain in Cephellonia, despite the many similarities in their stories. Pampaloni survived execution, joined the Greek People's Liberation Army, the Partisans in the Greek civil war, and fought with them in Epirus for fourteen months. Pampaloni was interviewed by The Guardian newspaper in 2000[4] and expressed the view that the novel misrepresented the Greek partisan movement.

The novel also shows some similarities to Bandiera bianca a Cefalonia, a novel by Marcello Venturi published in 1963, translated in English as The White Flag (1969).


1995 – Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book

2004 – 19th place on The Big Read



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:


A film 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. The film, directed by John Madden, also starred Christian Bale, Irene Papas and Joanna Daria Adraktas.


In 2011, the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, England, and the Kote Marjanishvili Theatre of Tbilisi, Georgia, produced an adaptation of the novel written by Mike Maran and directed by Levan Tsuladze. This production combined live actors and puppetry. It had its premiere in Georgia at the Tbilisi International Festival in October 2011, before transferring to the Mercury.[5][6]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Corelli's Mandolin [Hardcover] Retrieved on 28 November 2010.
  2. ^ Dr Jules Smith (for the British Council), LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES (2003), retrieved on 28 November 2010.
  3. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 19 October 2012
  4. ^ Greek myth (part two)
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ [2][dead link]