Axel Munthe (1857-1949)

From The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym (2021), by Paula Byrne:

“…But in Capri she was entranced by the Villa San Michele, built by the innovative Swedish psychiatrist and author, Axel Munthe. It stood on a plateau 330 metres above the sea, looking across the Bay of Naples and the Sorrentine Peninsula, with a view of Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Munthe had created an extraordinary garden, often described as the most beautiful garden in Italy. He planted camellias, flowering ash, azaleas, wisteria, hydrangeas, roses, agapanthus, busy Lizzie and hundreds of other plants from the Mediterranean and other regions of the world. The indigenous wild flowers included acanthus, myrtle, broom, rock rose. To contrast with the vivid colours, he planted rich green ivies, box, thuja and mosses. There was an avenue of cypress and a colonnade fragrant with wisteria. Munthe built outdoor ‘rooms’; shady courtyards, pergolas and arbours for respite in the hot summer months. He added sculptures and antiquities, many of which he had found and dug up in the garden. Pym liked best a ‘cool little courtyard’ filled with ‘Roman pieces’. When she walked in it, ‘white-walled and peaceful with trees against the sky,’ she felt tearful: ‘The peace, the beauty, the antiquity, perhaps something of the feeling I have for churchyards came over me.’

Inside the villa, Pym was taken with the beautiful old furniture and the inscribed Roman sculptures: ‘Oh the agony of not knowing Latin!’ Above his desk, in his study, she was entranced by a great stone head of Medusa, which he spotted in the clear water by the old foundations of Tiberius’s bath. ‘How wonderful to have seen it before anyone else did’, she noted. Looking out over the sea, was a gigantic 3,000-year-old Egyptian Sphinx.

Visitors were encouraged to make a wish, so Pym ‘wished a simple wish that could come true’.”

From the Waterstones website:

Axel Munthe: The Road to San Michele tells for the first time the riveting life-story of an extraordinary individual, who came to define the times he lived in. The precociously bright son of a Swedish pharmacist, Axel Munthe worked under Jean Martin Charcot, and in 1880, became the youngest doctor in French history. By the 1890s, he was world-famous for his healing powers, believed by some to be supernatural. He moved in the most colourful and exalted circles of fin de siecle Europe, counting amongst his friends Henry James, Howard Carter, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lady Ottoline Morrell and Count Zeppelin. Though physician to the Swedish court, where he became the lover of the Crown Princess Victoria, Munthe was more at home with nature than with people. He travelled through remotest Lapland, as well as across Europe, and his great love was animals, whom he went to great lengths to protect. In 1929 he published ‘The Story of San Michele’, an account of his life, shot through with his love for Italy and Capri, where he built a bird sanctuary and the house of his dreams, the Villa San Michele. The book became an international best seller, translated into 40 languages, and has become one of the classics of the last century. Bengt Jangfeldt is the first person to have gone through Munthe’s diaries, letters and notebooks to produce this definitive account of one of 20th Century Europe’s most vibrant figures. Written with the verve and exuberance of its subject, ‘Axel Munthe: The Road to San Michele’ evokes a lost time, a life of passions, and a man who believed in every sense in the power of dreams.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: