The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, Rumer Godden, The Viking Press, 1963, 312 pp
This novel is the fourth bestseller from 1963 that includes infidelity as a major element of the plot: The Group by Mary McCarthy, Caravans by James Michener, Elizabeth Appleton by John O'Hara, and now Rumer Godden's novel at #10 on the list. If that doesn't presage the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and the 1970s feminist movement, I don't know how else to account for it.
Of course, women have been leaving their lawfully married husbands for someone better or more exciting for centuries. In fact I have come across the topic fairly often in my reading. I have the idea that Rumer Godden has a religious bent, possibly because the only other book of hers I have read is In This House of Brede which features nuns. I wondered how she would handle infidelity.
Fanny Clavering, mother of three and wife of Darrell, meets a dashing and renowned movie director, Rob Quillet, and falls head over heels. Darrell, being a British Army colonel, is forever being sent on diplomatic missions. He has been gone more than he has been home for their entire married life.
Rob woos Fanny away with secret dinners in restaurants and lovemaking that clearly is nothing like what Fanny ever got from Darrell. So after much dithering, Fanny divorces Darrell and takes off with Rob to the glamorous Villa of Fiorita, Italy.
Her two younger children, 14-year-old Hugh and 12-year-old Caddie, are devastated by the breakup of their home. They scrape up as much money as they can and travel alone to Italy, intending to "rescue" their mother and bring her home.
Thus ensues a tragicomic encounter between the two generations made even more complex by the arrival of Rob's love daughter from Paris. Does anyone remember The Parent Trap where Haley Mills plays both of the twins who scheme to get their parents back together? Rumer Godden's book is a bit more serious and of course it is British.
She creates wonderful child characters and makes you feel their confusions, their torn loyalties, and all the growing up they suddenly have to do. The adults do not come off as well and I was dismayed by the ending.
Really? Must a woman pay so dearly for following her heart, for pursuing pleasure? Does her life belong to her children? Tough questions and readers, I have lived them.
(The Battle of the Villa Fiorita is out of print but can be found in libraries, at used book sellers and in e-Book form.)