Discovered in the secret compartment of a North Italian cabinet, this enchanting manuscript may or may not be complete, and it may or may not be intended for posterity. Undeterred by these uncertainties, John Fuller gives us the early nineteenth-century ‘memoirs’ of Laetitia Horsepole, painter, philosopher and femme fatale. Shelley, apparently, came across this formidable woman, aged ninety, on his travels through Italy, and became her confidant and neighbour. Why, the reader may wonder, is she not better known? Why indeed? That long spell in Madagascar certainly interrupted her career. She was prickly and disinclined to ingratiate herself with the arbiters of fashionable taste. And then her virtual disappearance to Italy didn’t help matters. But her obscurity gives added piquancy to the memoirs which – her idiosyncratic art theory and philosophy apart – are above all a dramatic eighteenth-century adventure in five acts which reflect her tempestuous involvement with the five ‘husbands’ of her life, from the brutish Crowther and the dull and the rich but louche Count Chiavari. Laetitia reflects on the vagaries of love and erotic involvement, on art and men, on flora and fauna, and reveals for the first time what actually happened in Madagascar. Shamelessly enjoyable, teasingly allusive, irresistibly funny and sometimes sad, Laetitia’s is quite simply a brilliant and bewitching romance full of truths that lie deeper than fact.
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