Iris Origo was born in 1902 and instantly catapulted into a life of “unfair advantages of birth, education, money, environment and opportunity.” But she used this birthright wisely, and her legacy includes a string of books beloved equally by historians and writers.
Origo’s mother, Lady Sybil Cuffe, married William Bayard Cutting in 1901, and when the family was not traveling to the far corners of the earth, Iris spent her youth in the ancestral estate on Long Island and in her grandfather’s castle in Ireland. Her father died tragically when she was eight, and she continued her peripatetic life with her indefatigable mother and beloved governess. A woman who always knew her mind, in 1923 Origo bought La Foce, an entire valley, almost feudal in organization, in the Val d’Orcia of Tuscany. There for fifty years she worked tirelessly with her husband, improving the land and the lot of peasants, saving endangered children from the brutal incursions of the Nazis, and writing history and memoirs that are still considered classics of the genre.
She was at once a woman of actions and introspection, of boundless curiosity and endearing innocence. She wrote beautifully, thoughtfully, and lucidly. As Raymond Mortimer observed, “A masterly biographer here recounts her own story, and in this biography she is at her best.”