Isobel Harrington, fresh from her English finishing school in the summer of 1922, is sent to visit cousins in Italy for just one reason: to catch the eye of their wealthy and eligible house guest.
But the man who awakens Isobel’s passion is not the respectable British heir to a nobleman — it is local Italian Stefano, an enigma who doesn’t fit any of the “”boxes”” she’s been taught to expect.
In Stefano’s arms she experiences a sexual awakening. He dares her to follow her dreams, but is she brave enough to defy convention, and her parents’ expectations, to pursue her own happiness?
Review: This problem of finance was one which had bedeviled the English aristocracy forever. Eldest sons inherited the family property and titles leaving the younger ones the choice of entering the Church or shifting to the British colonies to become a ‘sahib’ in India or Africa. The recently poor nobility were left with few options to restore their lost prestige. Having a daughter make a ‘good’ match, i.e. one with financial clout and of course the right breeding, was just one of them. Entering business (vulgar commerce!) was not considered right. Isobel’s mother may have been embarrassed by her sister’s marriage to a businessman of Irish-American origin, but she overcame her distaste in order to send her daughter to Italy where she would be the house guest of her American cousins, along with one more important house guest – the man she had targeted as her daughter’s future husband. This is a piece of historical fiction, set in Europe between the two world wars, as the old order was slowly changing, Britain’s colonies were slowly slipping away and the class/feudal system as had been known for centuries was slowly dying.
Isobel isn’t as intrigued by her mother’s choice as she is by the handsome young local who she meets on her rare, solitary walks. A budding artist, she has been told that her work lacks passion. On the verge of sexual awakening, she’s the original sleeping beauty, awaiting her handsome prince to awaken her passions.
In the arms of Stefano, she finds the fulfillment she craves. But she also realizes that she will probably have heartbreak in her future. Seduction is a game many of the local romeos play with the English and American girls they meet. Is Stefano the real deal or is he the clichéd Italian stallion, just having his fun in the sun?
We can see the backdrop of changing times. We glimpse the appearance of early fascism. Stefano is particularly insightful as he describes the world he sees around him. We witness Isobel’s newfound maturity as she comes to terms with her situation regarding Stefano, not to mention the imaginative way she helps out her cousin Frances, who’s now in trouble deep.
The sexual description is romantic but there was, I felt, a slight touch of voyeurism in the story, when the heroine pleasures herself in her journey of self discovery, not to mention when she stumbles upon Frances and her paramour making love. While not averse to sexual description, this reader doesn’t enjoy watching someone else’s show. Perhaps notions of privacy, deeply ingrained, are responsible for this.
However, I did enjoy this novel of coming of age in a changing world. A story exquisitely told with a satisfactory ending. I found it pleasing on many levels and would certainly recommend it to readers of historical fiction.
Favorite Quote: She had no regrets. These weeks in Italy had molded her into a new person, a person she was proud to be, and there was no gong back.