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 & color to everything she touched & left for posterity a legacy of work, biography, autobiography, & literary criticism, that have become recognized as classics of their kind. She was born into a wealthy & long-established Long Island family, the Cuttings, but her talented & 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 & an extensive entourage, settling finally at the Villa Medici at Fiesole & entering into the privileged world of wealthy Anglo-Florentine expatriates whose likes included the Berensons, Harold Acton, Janet Ross, & Edith Wharton, & whose petty bickering, & pettier politics, had a profound influence on how she spent her life. Her marriage to Antonio Origo, a wealthy landowner & sportsman, was as much a reaction to this insular world as it was a surprise to her family & friends. Together they purchased, & singlehandedly revived, an extensive, arid valley in Tuscany called Val d'Orcia, rebuilding the farmsteads & 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, & repatriating Allied prisoners-of-war to their units. Caroline Moorehead has made extensive use of unpublished letters, diaries, & papers to write what will surely be considered the definitive biography of this remarkable woman. She has limned a figure who was brave, industrious, & fiercely independent, but hardly saintly. What emerges is a portrait of one of the more intriguing, attractive, & intelligent woman of the last century.
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