First published in a series of extracts in 1938 as Two Englishwomen in Rome, the letters of Matilda Lucas and her sister Anne quickly found favour amongst lovers of the Eternal City and also became a source for scholars. Robert Sénécal has now transcribed and edited this complete correspondence, the originals of which are preserved in the Hitchin Museum. The letters with footnotes amount to a staggering 1,000 pages. Miss Lucas’s extracts are here put into their contexts and it is now possible to follow the exploits of these two indomitable women chronologically.
Miss Lucas first went to Rome accompanied by her sister Anne in 1871. Thereafter they wintered in the city annually until 1903. This was a period of immense change. Rome became the capital of the new Italian state in 1870 and morphed during the time of the sisters’ sojourn despite previously being the centre of the Roman Catholic Church, from something of a rural town into the metropolis which it is today. Huge tensions existed between the ousted papal regime and the new Italian monarchy. People took sides. All this is reflected in Miss Lucas’s correspondence.
Matilda and Anne Lucas were the daughters of the painter Samuel Lucas (1805–1870) of Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Of Quaker origin, they followed in their father’s footsteps in also having artistic interests. In Rome they studied drawing and painting under numerous artists and also decorated pottery which was sold in Rome, London and elsewhere.
These complete letters follow their development both artistic and personal. The two women quickly became a Roman institution. Not taking sides they had friends and acquaintances amongst followers of the new regime and the papal curia as well as the large ex-patriot community in the city. Thus they mixed with politicians, diplomats, monsignori, members of the aristocracy, both “black” and “white”, and befriended numerous artists such as Giuseppe Raggio, Onorato Carlandi and Ettore Roessler Franz, and many ex-patriot artists either living in or visiting the city.
In her original book Miss Lucas only dealt with the Roman part of her correspondence. However, the letters contain much to do with aspects of travel at the time and with visits to other parts of Italy on her journeys to and from Rome. Her travels also took her to places as far apart as Malta and Vienna.
"I’ve had so much enjoyment reading Miss Lucas’s letters…a wonderful job in bringing out the whole collection."
Prof T.P. Wiseman, University of Exeter
"I keep meaning to congratulate further on your tremendous & patient achievement as editor…I sat up reading both volumes over three nights. The cumulative effect is considerable. Such detail: Victorian invalidism; social & snobbish revelations; insight into Roman society + Italian travel."
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“Every body comes back to Rome”
The Complete Letters Of Matilda Lucas, 1871 – 1902
Transcribed and Edited by Robert Sénécal
London, Gatehouse Editions, 2013
Casebound in 2 vols. £50.00 + p&p