This Rome of Ours (book #172)


Augusta L Francis, 1939.

This is a “faction” book about Rome, published just before the war, a reprint of pieces published in two magazines, The Pylon and The Missionary. The book describes sight-seeing in Rome in a party of three; the narrator Augusta, her friend (or possibly family member) Pellegrina, and Aunt Julia, who is I think Pellegrina’s aunt rather than the narrators, but the personal details of the group are non-existent. They are Catholics, and Pellegrina’s name means pilgrim.

There’re a couple of Francis’s articles online: Many Legends Explain the Coming of Wise Men (The Denver Catholic Register, p9, 1938) and Castelli Romani. (The ad at the start of this post is from the 1938 newspaper.) I also found a review of The Pylon which mentions her articles:

If it were only for Fr Martindale’s companion to the Acts of the Apostles, “Letters from their Aunts”, or for Augusta L. Francis’ refreshing and informative “Aspects of Rome”, the magazine would be worth buying. But these vie with articles by Arnold Lunn, Allison Peers, Wyndham Lewis, Clare Boothe Luce . . . (ellipsis in original)

Source: The Venerabile (magazine, 1948).

There is a brief introduction by the archaeologist and art historian Eugénie Strong.

I haven’t been able to find out very much at all about Francis herself. A review of the book in the Irish Monthly in 1940 by “E.H.” says “the author, who, according to a publisher’s note, is a lecturer in archaeology”. That particular review starts off sounding a bit negative, saying the book will bring on mental indigestion. It becomes more positive:

There are many satisfying snatches of what could almost be described as gossip about the Eternal City, which could only be disclosed by one who knows and loves it. … The chapters take the form of conversations between Pellegrina, who knows all about Rome, and her two friends, who do not; consequently Pellegrina becomes a rather monotonous figure, in spite of the author’s attempts to keep her human. However, it is well worth subduing any impatience one may feel with Pellegrina for being so impossibly explicit, in order to hear what she has to say. The book is illustrated with some remarkably fine and unusual photographs, and many sketches.

I was a lot less interested in the chat about Rome than details of the characters’ lives, of which there are sadly very little. This was probably the best bit:

“Donald and Virginia want a flat for the winter,” said Pellegrina as we sat watching the cloud shadows on the campagna. …
“I had a night-letter from them,” she went on. “Destable things, night-letters. None of the succinct terseness of a telegram, none of the friendliness of a letter, but a sort of skeleton draped in a – a – ” She couldn’t think of any sort of drapery sufficiently ugly.
“Lambrequin?” I suggested.
“Exactly. Draped in a lambrequin – not that I know exactly what a lambrequin is. They used to put them over doors and windows, didn’t they? To keep out the air. She drew a deep breath of rain-scented ozone. “Well, they want a flat, or a little house, a residence at least nominally their own, for a year. He has been given some work to do here for his Company Manager and she is thirsting for the Eternal City – she always was. We must get them something entirely perfect. Furnished, of course.”
“Chromium or thirteenth century?” I enquired.
“You mean furniture? Oh, definitely thirteenth century; and the rooms, too, provided there are washing facilities. Their breezy night-letter ended: ‘Step on it dear. Grateful more than ever. Virdon,’ the last being their code name. They are so proud of it. Babes they are, in a way, but nice, very nice, and quite knowledgeable.”
“Let’s go,” said I, “but let me think for a minute. Why not? It isn’t often I get an inspiration like this. We’ll house-hunt for Virginia and Donald, all over Rome, for days if you like, and we’ll investigate the rooms of all the Saints who ever lives in Rome.”

(A night-letter seems to have been like a long telegram – I found one reference from 1928 in America mentioning a limit of 50 words.)

They look at “utterly charming flats furnished like the day after tomorrow … They had the inevitable and catastrophically ‘simple’ chromium furniture, described either as ‘efficient’ or ‘amusing’ or ‘intriguing’, according to the vocabulary of the person who was trying to let the flat. It was awful”. Then they see “hopeless ‘artistic’ houses” and “terrible still more arty ones with dingy studios”. “The next day Pellegrina appeared in the severest black coat and skirt she possessed, and refrained from tilting her head. So did I. And we went to the agent for a fresh set of addresses. That day it was better” but then the houses are too mediaeval and musty. They redress in “something quiet with a touch of ‘eleganza’. That did it” and they find the right mix of “mediaeval in atmosphere and modern in cleanliness”. They send a cablegram to Donald and Virginia signed “Pelaug”, which is the only indication of the narrator’s name.

So although I like semi-fictionalised travel narratives, this one was too travelly and not enough fictiony or peopley for me. Would still like to know more about the author though.


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