Ben Downing specializes in 19th- and 20th- century British literature and social life, with a particular emphasis on travel writing and expatriates. He has published essays, articles, and reviews in The New Criterion, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, TLS, The Guardian, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post Book World, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Lingua Franca, The New York Sun, and elsewhere.
Currently the co-editor and managing editor of Parnassus Poetry in Review, Downing is a graduate of Harvard and Columbia. He has taught at Bryn Mawr, in Columbia’s Graduate Writing Division, and at the 92nd St. Y. He lives in New York City.
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Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 2013 (Non-fiction)
PRAISE FOR BEN DOWNING
“Ben Downing’s description of the extraordinary Janet Ross reads like deep, delicious gossip from a bygone era. Combining a wonderfully incisive account of the spikily pretentious world of Anglo-Florentine society with some marvelous portraits of its eccentric members and their febrile entanglements, Queen Bee of Tuscany is both instructive to read and great, great fun.”— Miranda Seymour, author of Thrumpton Hall and Mary Shelley
“Queen Bee of Tuscany is so amusing, in so many ways, it's hard to know where to begin the praise . . . This is a perfect book for the bedside, poolside or, if you're really lucky, that long long plane ride to Italy . . . Let me stress that none of what I've said quite conveys the pleasure of reading Queen Bee of Tuscany. This isn't merely a history of Janet Ross and her family or of the long-standing Anglo-Florentine colony. It's a compendium of literary and historical vignettes, a showcase for it author's excellent prose, and quite simply one of the best books of the year.” ―Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“Downing has assembled an immense amount of information, not only about this remarkable family of literate, artistic, and well-connected women writers . . . but about the vast cast of foreigners who, from the end of the Napoleonic wars, made Tuscany their home . . . Queen Bee of Tuscany provides a rich historical survey of a lost and charmed age.” ―Caroline Moorehead, The Wall Street Journal
“Now and then, there appear certain lives that serve as lenses onto an entire generation--those lucky few who happen to live at a place and time of particular foment and historical import, and whose personal destinies intersect with the great movements of art, literature, and politics that define an age . . . Janet Ross--whose story is detailed in rollicking fashion in Ben Downing's new book, The Queen Bee of Tuscany--is just one such character . . . She'd been born amid the optimistic expansion and bustle of Victorian empire; she passed away in the brief pause between Europe's most deadly and debilitating wars. In between, she led, in Downing's words, ‘one of the fullest lives imaginable,' and her ‘forceful personality made, for better or worse, a strong impression on all those who met her.' We may not remember the name Janet Ross these days, but Downing's book stands a fair chance of changing that--and if he succeeds, the history of women . . . will be all the richer.” ―Katie Baker, The Daily Beast
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