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Description - A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps

Near Mount Etna in Sicily lies Casa Cuseni, a beautiful house built in golden stone - and the home which Daphne Phelps was astonished to find she had inherited in 1947. At the age of 34, war-weary from working as a psychiatric social worker, with barely any Italian, and precious little money, she plunged into a fascinating Sicilian world. Every imaginable problem had to be overcome, not only financial difficulties but local authorities and a house staff who initially felt no loyalty to the new Signorina but who gradually accepted her as a respected member of their small community. To help make ends meet, for many years she ran Casa Cuseni as a pensione and to her doors came Roald Dahl, Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell and Henry Faulkner. But just as important to her life and her story are the Sicilians with whom she shared the love and care of Casa Cuseni: Don Ciccio the local mafia leader, Vincenzio, general manservant who recited while he served the meals, Beppe, a Don Juan who scented his eyebrows and his moustache to attract the local girls; and above all the steadfast cook and housekeeper who lives with Daphne still and to whom this book is dedicated.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781860496486
ISBN-10: 1860496482
Format: Paperback
(196mm x 131mm x 21mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Virago Press Ltd
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 18-May-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - A House in Sicily by Daphne Phelps

UK Kirkus Review » Anyone who loves Sicily, Italy or the Mediterranean will enjoy reading Phelps's affectionate account of inheriting a beautiful house and garden in Taormina and abandoning a career in social work to battle with a strange culture, lack of funds and suspicious local authorities. She triumphantly became the hostess of a lodging house that welcomed Roald Dahl, Bertrand Russell, Tennessee Williams and many others, most notably Henry Faulkner, an eccentric American painter who travelled with an alarming menagerie of animals. But it is the Sicilians themselves - the priest, the mafia, the peasant and her beloved friend and servant Concetta - who are the stars of ths evocative and beguiling biography. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Another memoir by a British subject extolling the virtues of Italy and the Italians. But Phelps is in many ways outside the mold. To begin with, she is a woman and a former social worker. Just as importantly, she settled in Sicily, not Tuscany. Sicily is a world away from Tuscany; the Baroque and Arab influence are more in evidence here than Renaissance classicism. At 36, Phelps inherited Casa Cuseni, generally acknowledged to be one of the finest houses in Taormina, in the northeast comer of Sicily. Without meaning to, she fell in love with the house and the locals, a colorful cast of characters, including Concetta Genio, housekeeper and friend. By transforming the Casa Cuseni into a modest pensione, she managed to keep it for the past half-century and attract an eccentric group of English, American, and foreign visitors. These included Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl, and Tennessee Williams. In the process, she collected a menagerie of animals and innumerable friends, and was named godmother to a troupe of Sicilian puppets. Adding a charming aspect to the work is the clash of cultures: English and Sicilian, Protestant and Catholic, Mediterranean male and northern European female (the sight of Phelps behind the steering wheel of an automobile is cause for an entire town to turn out to witness the never-before-seen spectacle.) Phelps has a deep-seated empathy for the poverty of the Sicilians, but an anticommunist bias that fails to understand the social cause of that orientation. In the end, the cast of characters is more interesting than the author herself; not because of the self-effacing nature of the writing, but because of the colorful and charismatic culture that Phelps finds herself immersed in. The house itself has been officially declared a site of "cultural and historic importance," no mean feat in Italy. A charming memoir that only begins to uncover the myriad facets of life and culture in Sicily. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Daphne Phelps

Daphne Phelps's house and garden have featured in THE WORLD OF INTERIORS and were the subject of a Radio 3 programme.