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Iris Origo was one of those rare characters who, despite being born with a platinum spoon in her mouth, went on to accomplish great things. In Origo’s case, she managed to add light and color to everything she touched and left for posterity a legacy of work, biography, autobiography, and literary criticism, that have become recognized as classics of their kind.
She was born into a wealthy and long-established Long Island family, the Cuttings, but her talented and beloved father (who resembled, more than a little, a character right out of Henry James) died of consumption when she was only nine. She spent the following years traveling the world with her mother and an extensive entourage, settling finally at the Villa Medici at Fiesole and entering into the privileged world of wealthy Anglo-Florentine expatriates whose likes included the Berensons, Harold Acton, Janet Ross, and Edith Wharton, and whose petty bickering, and pettier politics, had a profound influence on how she spent her life.
Her marriage to Antonio Origo, a wealthy landowner and sportsman, was as much a reaction to this insular world as it was a surprise to her family and friends. Together they purchased, and single-handedly revived an extensive, arid valley in Tuscany called Val d’Orcia, rebuilding the farmsteads and the manor house. Although clearly sympathetic to Mussolini’s land use policies, they sided firmly with the Allies during World War II, taking considerable risks in protecting children, sheltering partisans, and repatriating Allied prisoners-of-war to their units.
Caroline Moorehead has made extensive use of unpublished letters, diaries, and papers to write what will surely be considered the definitive biography of this remarkable woman. She has limned a figure who was brave, industrious, and fiercely independent, but hardly saintly. What emerges is a portrait of one of the more intriguing, attractive, and intelligent women of the last century.
Praise for Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val d’Orcia
A fascinating portrait, and one that matches the high standards of its subject. . . An admirably perceptive, well-written, and entertaining biography.
Caroline Moorehead is the author of ten previous books, including two widely acclaimed biographies of Freya Stark and Bertrand Russell. She grew up in Florence and Rome and now makes her home in London.