Queen Bee of Tuscany by Ben Downing
The Redoubtable Janet Ross

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It was a full life... Whether you think it deserves such extensive documentation will depend on the size of your appetite for Victoriana. Downing’s is enormous, and the faded names that fill the book’s index clearly have resonance for him.
-NY Times

Synopsis

"Quite simply one of the best books of the year." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Ben Downing's Queen Bee of Tuscany brings an extraordinary Victorian back to life. Born into a distinguished intellectual family and raised among luminaries such as Dickens and Thackeray, Janet Ross married at eighteen and went to live in Egypt. There, for the next six years, she wrote for the London Times, hobnobbed with the developer of the Suez Canal, and humiliated pashas in horse races. In 1867 she moved to Florence, Italy where she spent the remaining sixty years of her life writing a series of books and hosting a colorful miscellany of friends and neighbors, from Mark Twain to Bernard Berenson, at Poggio Gherardo, her house in the hills above the city. Eventually she became the acknowledged doyenne of the Anglo-Florentine colony, as it was known. Yet she was also immersed in the rural life of Tuscany: An avid agriculturalist, she closely supervised the farms on her estate and the sharecroppers who worked them, often pitching in on grape and olive harvests.
Spirited, erudite, and supremely well-connected, Ross was one of the most dynamic women of her day. Her life offers a fascinating window on fascinating times, from the Risorgimento to the rise of fascism.
Encompassing all this rich history, Queen Bee of Tuscany is a panoramic portrait of an age, a family, and our evolving love affair with Tuscany.

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2013

 

About Ben Downing

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In addition to The Calligraphy Shop, a book of poems, Ben Downing has published essays, articles, and reviews in The Paris Review, The New Criterion, and elsewhere. He is the coeditor of Parnassus and lives in New York City.
 
Published June 18, 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 353 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Queen Bee of Tuscany
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Craig Seligman on Jul 19 2013

It was a full life... Whether you think it deserves such extensive documentation will depend on the size of your appetite for Victoriana. Downing’s is enormous, and the faded names that fill the book’s index clearly have resonance for him.

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WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Caroline Moorehead on Jun 14 2013

Mr. Downing has assembled an immense amount of information, not only about this remarkable family of literate, artistic and well-connected women writers...

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Kirkus

Good
on Mar 15 2013

While exploring the life of his human subject, Downing also effectively draws us to visit Tuscany, to stay and absorb its magic.

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