This is the story of a beautiful – and in some ways improbable – friendship. John Fleming and Hugh Honour were brilliant art historians who lived in a magical, slightly run-down villa near Lucca. They made a perfect life for themselves, but there was nothing remotely dilettantish about them: they were ferociously hard-working and each produced an astonishing corpus of work. However, they also found time to cultivate friendships and encourage protégés, who were usually male. An exception was Susanna Johnston, née Chancellor, whose arrival in their life came in such peculiar circumstances that it might make for the opening of a novel.
At the age of twenty-one, Susanna found herself broke in Rome. An intermediary took her to meet the blind littérateur Percy Lubbock, who lived in a villa perched on a rocky promontory above the sea near Lerici, in order to take over reading duties from Honour and Fleming, who had