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Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross
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Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross

2.75  ·  Rating details ·  77 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
"Quite simply one of the best books of the year." —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Ben Downing's Queen Bee of Tuscany brings an extraordinary Victorian back to life. Born into a distinguished intellectual family and raised among luminaries such as Dickens and Thackeray, Janet Ross married at eighteen and went to live in Egypt. There, for the next six years, she wrote for
ebook, 352 pages
Published June 18th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Aug 21, 2013 rated it did not like it

“Though intelligent and learned, especially for an autodidact, she was by no means brilliant.”—page 15

The first hundred or so pages—the entire first three chapters—of ‘The Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross,’ by Ben Downing, are a mind-numbing miasma of proper nouns, and should be skipped. You'll lose nothing and would thank me profusely for sparing you the boredom, if you knew just how relentlessly dull those three chapters were.

Recommendation: If after skipping th
Jo Walton
It was interesting to read this and the Berenson biography so close together, as they were so different and covered some of the same ground.

This isn't a particularly deep biography, and I'm left with the impression Downing thinks that the other generations of Ross's family were more interesting than she was. .
I simply couldn't get into this. Much as I usually enjoy biographies of singular individuals, it seemed I was in for a nonstop parade of people that Janet met, places that Janet had been, and so on. While many of these people and places were noteworthy, there didn't seem to be much happening beyond surface commentary. About sixty pages in, I simply had to face the fact that I wasn't getting much out of the book. While not something I actively disliked, it wasn't anything I was enjoying, either.
Sep 21, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
downing's book is so wordy, so detailed that it is unbearable reading. what could have been an insightful and delightful peek into an age we don't know enough about is, instead, a plodding, name-dropping tome with no spark. there is no story, no plot, no timeline. janet ross may have been a fascinating woman who led a spectacular life, but you'll never learn that from this book.
Balloon Bruce
Jul 08, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Thought it was poorly written, couldn't finish it.
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished Ben Downing's Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013). The book is a biography of Janet Duff Gordon-Ross, a fascinating woman who lived a life that connected the Victorian world of arts and letters to that of the twentieth-century. Downing writes not only about Ross's life in England, Egypt and finally in Tuscany but also about the larger Anglo-Italian community that lived in Italy. To understand her, he argues the reader needs ...more
Robert Heylmun
I managed to get through Ben Downing’s book on Janet Ross. It was something of a slog. I came out at the end wondering what the big deal was about and why this particular woman excited him to write about her in the first place. So I began by adding up the pluses:
She wrote books, apparently quite a few of them, and except for a cookbook, none of them are read much these days. She had a farm near Settignano and she treated her servants well so long as they did what they were told, didn’t talk bac
Dec 05, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did not finish this book. I was very interested in Lucie Austin, Janet's mother, and would have enjoyed reading more about her. The women in this family were definitely interesting characters who lived rich and exciting lives. In the hands of a different writer, this should have been enough to keep me engaged.

My problem with this book is that 1) Janet Ross, while interesting, was not *that* interesting to write a whole book about and 2) the author filled much of the book with the history of th
Jeffrey Greggs
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Janet Ross, the subject of Queen Bee of Tuscany, was a fascinating woman: she was connected to almost every eminent Victorian (and Edwardian) that you can name. What's more, she was an active agriculturalist at her villa, Poggio Gherardo, and an author of no mean skill (her classic cookbook Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen has the most enduring legacy, but she wrote on a wide variety of topics).

Downing's biography is extremely well-researched, and his portrait of Janet Ross is picked out in elegan
Nov 22, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of good fun in this book about Tuscany and the Anglo-Saxon love affair with the region. We are given extensive background for Janet Ross, who was the perfect specimen of this group, who lived in Italy and stayed the Other. After reading about her family background, her marriage, her (almost always celebrity) guests, I was still left with a question mark about the person. Who was she really, besides what her family tree tells us? The book fails to get inside her. The book neither a ...more
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