Michael Montgomery, Lear’s Italy. In the Footsteps of Edward Lear. London: Cadogan Guides, 2005.
When I ordered the book I expected a travelogue comparing present-day Italian places with what Edward Lear saw in his extensive travels (endless migrations) across the country, similar to Michael Booth’s Just As Well I’m Leaving. To the Orient with Hans Christian Andersen, whose author follows the Danish writer on a tour of Italy and the East (Reviews in The Observer, New Statesman, and The Independent).
After a few pages, however, it is obvious that this is not the case; Michael Montgomery, who is writing a screenplay about the “tragic story of Lear’s lengthy and ultimately unfullfilled love affair with Gussie Bethell”, is only interested in Lear’s life and does not know, or care about Italy. In the whole book I spotted no more that three personal remarks about the country, and their quality does not inspire one to wish for more, Mr. Montgomery clearly only has stereotyped opinions of Italy (which also transpires in the very short Independent review), so after quoting Lear’s first impressions of Naples and the asssault on his senses, he writes:
Barring only the advent of cars and cigarettes, and the brooding presence of the Camorra, it seems that little has changed in Naples over the past 150 years (42).
Apart from this, the book is not a disappointment. It strings together passages from Lear’s travel books, letters and diary, providing a lot of new material. In particular the chapters on Lear’s early travels in Florence, Rome and Naples are in great part extracted from never-before-printed letters to his sister Ann and later chapters include long extracts from his equally unpublished diary.
The book is stricly focused on voyage impressions so for the most part it only includes Lear’s observations on landscape, hotels and sometimes the general character of the people, and relates some of his, usually already famous, adventures. Readers interested in Edward Lear, and I do not see who else would buy the book, would probably have preferred to get more about his feelings and personal relationships (Lushington, Fortescue and Baring are mentioned only in passing, though they were probably the most important people in Lear’s life) as well as of his funny letters and drawings.