Iris Origo:

Marchesa of Val d’Orcia

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Caroline Moorehead has made extensive use of unpublished letters, diaries, and papers to write what will surely be considered the definitive biography of this remarkable woman.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.
—The Spectator


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. 


Caroline Mary Moorehead (born 28 October 1944) is a human rights journalist and biographer. Born in London, Moorehead is the daughter of Australian war correspondent Alan Moorehead and his English wife Lucy Milner. She received a BA from the University of London in 1965.

Moorehead has written six biographies, of Bertrand Russell, Heinrich Schliemann, Freya Stark, Iris Origo, Martha Gellhorn, and of Henriette-Lucy, Marquise de La Tour du Pin Gouvernet. Moorehead has also written a number of non-fiction pieces centered on human rights including a history of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dunant’s Dream, based on previously unseen archives in Geneva, Troublesome People, a book on pacifists, and a work on terrorism, Hostages to Fortune. Her most recent work in this category is on refugees in the modern world named Human Cargo, published in 2004. Moorehead has also published A Train in Winter, a book which focuses on 230 French women of the Resistance who were sent to Auschwitz, and of whom only forty-nine survived. Her 2014 book Village of Secrets is on a similar theme, describing a story where a wartime French village helped 3,000 Jews to safety.

She has written many book reviews for assorted papers and reviews, including the TLS, Literary Review, Telegraph, Independent, Spectator, and New York Review of Books. She specialized in human rights as a journalist, contributing a column first to The Times and then the Independent, and co-producing and writing a series of programs on human rights for BBC television.

She is a trustee and director of Index on Censorship and a governor of the British Institute of Human Rights. She has served on the committees of the Royal Society of Literature, of which she is a Fellow; the Society of Authors; English PEN; and the London Library. She also helped start a legal advice centre for asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in Cairo, where she helps run a number of educational projects.

She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1993.[5] She was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to literature.