2013: The Queen Bee of Tuscany

"In the summer of 1944 the tide of war finally turned in Tuscany."

Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross, Ben Downing

This is a non-fiction work that tells the story of the Anglo-Florentine colony in Tuscany, and of Janet Ross, who was one of its primary members.  In so telling, Downing captures a little slice of English history, starting with Janet's literary ancestors, and capturing the story of the English in Italy, as well as being a biography of Janet herself.   Janet was a legend in her own time - she wrote a number of books, she ran her own farm, and she knew everyone who came by.  The book could merely have been a list Ross's interactions with famous people - she arranged housing for Mark Twain, she was best friends with Bernard Berenson, she knew Gladstone.  George Meredith wrote a book about her, Ouida feuded with her, Thackery attended her fifth birthday party.  

The thing is, though, while it was midly interesting to learn about the Anglo-Florentine colony (long story short, lots of English folk lived in Florence over time, and lots do now, too.  Some of them were famous*), I was never quite convinced that Janet Ross was really that important.  She was, I guess, interesting in that she became more involved with actual Italians than most English at the time (even publishing a cookbook of Italian cuisine), but Downing never really convinced me why I should care about Janet Ross.  She seemed like a typical pushy upper class Englishwoman, who was a terrible parent, a holder of grudges, a bit of a character, sure, but not a book-worthy personage.  A broader history of the English in Italy, with perhaps half a chapter on Janet Ross would be more interesting than this book.

*Like, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017