Iris Origo communitarian, humanitarian, anti-fascist activist, writer, scholar and all-round heroine wrote an autobiography, Images and Shadows (1970), which – to my shame – I hadn’t read. A disgraceful oversight for a devotee
of The Merchant of Prato, Origo’s study bringing to life the hopes, fears and shenanigans of an Italian merchant and his family in the hellish 14th century (an obvious high stakes rival to the 20th for the Four Horsemen). So when I was visiting friends the other day I found a copy of her autobiography and asked to borrow it. I haven’t been disappointed so far, don’t expect to be, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone interested in Italy, history, WWII, the arts, rural sustainability … all manner of riveting subjects: they’re all present and correctly expressed in Iris Origo’s inviting, quietly compelling prose. Yes, she was wealthy and privileged; but she devoted nearly all she had to such good ends, and showed great courage when put to the test. Iris Origo has a way of focusing intently, entirely – and sensibly – upon what is strictly necessary. And her humanity and humour are rarely far away. Here’s a taste of them:
From Images and Shadows by Iris Origo
Decalogue for Mothers-in-law:-
“Don’t ask all the questions.
Don’t know all the answers.
Don’t compare – or at least don’t complain.
Don’t try too hard.”
The last of these is the most important, Iris Origo tells us. But I’d say all of the precepts are equally valid. And for everyone, not just mothers-in-law.
UPDATE: several friends have reminded me of Origo’s ‘War in Val d’Orcia’. They’re right: I should have both mentioned and recommended it. Consider the job done!