John Flem­ing & Hugh Hon­our Re­mem­bered Su­sanna John­ston (Gib­son Square, £20)

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Art his­to­ri­ans hugh hon­our and John Flem­ing were bril­liant writ­ers on art, ar­chi­tec­ture and the dec­o­ra­tive arts. they lived to­gether in italy in a de­voted part­ner­ship for many decades and sus­tained them­selves by writ­ing on the sub­jects they loved, of­ten to­gether. nov­el­ist su­sanna John­ston, wife of the ar­chi­tect nicholas John­ston, has writ­ten a very per­sonal mem­oir of the two men based on her own long friend­ship with them; John Flem­ing died in 2001, hugh hon­our in 2016.

she first met them in 1957, when Gor­don Water­field in­tro­duced her as their po­ten­tial re­place­ment as ‘reader’ to the aged—and by then blind—writer and critic Percy Lub­bock. Lub­bock lived in a villa by the sea—gli sca­fari, owned by his step­daugh­ter, the writer iris origo.

the scene of Mrs John­ston’s un­promis­ing ar­rival at the villa has the cu­ri­ous ring of an up­dated chap­ter from a henry James novel—ap­pro­pri­ately enough, per­haps, be­cause Lub­bock had, as a young man, been a close friend of the nov­el­ist. the age­ing Lub­bock was clearly not ex­pect­ing ever to hire a young woman for the role, but, some­how, she passed muster, got the job and be­gan her friend­ship with Flem­ing and hon­our.

their love of ital­ian cul­ture and their 1962 ac­qui­si­tion and restora­tion of the Villa Mar­chio near Lucca are at the heart of this mem­oir. Mrs John­ston, who also found a house near Lucca as a happy re­treat for her grow­ing fam­ily of four daugh­ters and friends, of­fers her per­sonal in­sight into how Flem­ing and hon­our lived in tus­cany. she de­scribes their beloved home and gives us glimpses of their ec­cen­tric cir­cle of lit­er­ary and artis­tic friends, as well as of the many ad­mir­ing grandees who sought them out (‘can’t they just read our books?’).

their A World History of Art, first pub­lished in 1982, re­mains an in­flu­en­tial work, reis­sued sev­eral times, and their 1977 The Pen­guin Dic­tionary of Dec­o­ra­tive Arts is still, per­haps, un­ri­valled. Mrs John­ston might per­haps have ex­tended her mem­oir to give a fuller ac­count of the re­mark­able ca­reers of these two men as writ­ers and ed­i­tors, for, in­flu­en­tial as they were, they will be less well known to each pass­ing gen­er­a­tion. how­ever, oth­ers may be plan­ning to ful­fil this role and she has pro­duced her own hon­est, idio­syn­cratic and en­gag­ing ac­count of her two friends as she knew them, a very hu­man link with a rich but slowly van­ish­ing strand of An­glo-ital­ian cul­ture and ideas. Jeremy Mus­son

Art his­to­ri­ans John Flem­ing (left) and Hugh Hon­our

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