Our Hillsides. Women Expatriates and Their Villas and Gardens on the Hills of Florence 1890-1950
Edited by Patricia Osmond and Kate Thomas

On the hillsides of Fiesole and Settignano, overlooking the city of Florence, the beautiful villas and gardens evoke memories of their former owners and residents—many of them American, British, and European women expatriates who made their homes here in the late 1800s and early 1900s, attracted by Florence’s artistic treasures, the Renaissance ideal of villa life, and the quiet, harmonious landscape. It is thus the aim of this series to revive and enrich these memories by recounting the stories of a group of independent and talented women: Mary Berenson, Catherine Jeanne Ghyka, Florence Blood, Vernon Lee, and Nina Auzias Stein. Drawn chiefly from contemporary sources—letters and diaries, novels and poetry, drawings and photographs—preserved in library and archival collections across the continents, much of this material is published now for the first time.
Although there are notable exceptions, most of the women expats in our group belonged to a well-educated and well-traveled élite, intent on pursuing their interests in art, literature, philosophy, or music while enjoying the teas, dinners, and social connections offered by what Mary Berenson called "our hillside". But our sources also provide fresh insights into their personalities, friendships, romances, and rivalries, as well as the challenges of managing their households and designing and caring for their gardens. Moreover, in the years following World War I, we see the disruptive effects of national and international events on their hitherto relatively tranquil and secure lives, and during World War II, the severe hardships and life-threatening dangers endured by those who could not leave their hillside homes or who, despite all, chose stoically to remain.

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