Obituary: Kinta Beevor
Monday 04 September 1995
She was born Carinthia Waterfield. Her father, Aubrey Waterfield, was an artist who concealed his work, highly rated by such few critics as Kenneth Clark who saw it, under a broad bushel. Her mother, Lina Waterfield, on the other hand, was an energetic doer and mover, a founder of the British Institute in Florence and for many years between the wars the Observer's Italian correspondent. Lina was the niece and ward of Janet Ross, a writer and for 60 years the formidable chatelaine of Poggio Gherardo hard by the Bernard Berensons outside Florence; and she was the granddaughter of Lucie Duff Gordon, the subject of an acclaimed biography last year by Katherine Frank, Lucie Duff Gordon: a passage to Egypt, with which Kinta Beevor was proud to have been associated.
Lucie Duff Gordon, daughter of the translator Sarah Austin and John Austin the jurist, was herself a prolific translator and a friend of Thackeray, Dickens and the Carlyles, but is best known for the letters she wrote from tubercular exile, the Victorian best-seller Letters from Egypt (1865). Poignantly, she died four years after it was published, aged 48.
Much of the ground that Kinta Beevor covers in her book will be familiar to readers of her mother's autobiography Castle in Italy (1961). Where the daughter's narrative wins over the mother's is in the clarity of her vision; these are no journalist's polished anecdotes but the unmistakable, bright-eyed recollections of a child.
A child has access to all worlds; and while her father silently painted and her mother took her typewriter on important visits to Rome, or they entertained tourists such as D.H. Lawrence and Rex Whistler, or ventured into what Aldous Huxley nicknamed "Villadom" to stay with the awkward Aunt Janet, Kinta and her brother John took to the kitchen and fell under the wing of a kind Italian peasantry.
Vincente Ramponi, the contadino, Fiore Pasquino, the stonemason, and the cook Mariannina became their mentors, and they learnt the ins and outs of la cucina povera, the arts of drying mushrooms, rootling for truffles, killing the pig. Kinta Beevor excels in recording the gossip, the sayings, the songs and the smells of the kitchen and teases the reader with memories of such delicious dishes as a bomba di riso of fledgling pigeons.
Her father had fallen in love with the Fortezza della Brunella when he first saw it in 1896, and he took his bride there on honeymoon in 1903. It was at Aulla in the Lunigiana in northern Tuscany, an inhospitable castle on a rock with views of the Carraras. Aunt Janet's steward reported it "a place not fit for Christians", but the Waterfields leased, and later bought it. Kinta saw it first as a child of five in 1916 and revelled in its 16ft-deep walls and extraordinary roof-garden. When five years later she was sent to join John and her other brother Gordon (later head of the BBC Arabic Service) at boarding school in England, she was a thorough- going Italian and could hardly read or write English at all.
In 1927 Janet Ross died, leaving Poggio Gherardo to Kinta's brother John, who was killed in the Second World War. Kinta was married from the house in 1933 to Jack Beevor, a solicitor in London, and Italy became for her a place for holidays - though in 1941, but for being pregnant with the first of her three sons, she might have been parachuted into the country by British Naval Intelligence. She kept up with Italy by returning annually for the vendemmia.
The closing chapters of A Tuscan Childhood tell of the slow retreat from Tuscany, the attempts to make ends meet, then the sale of Poggio in 1952 and of Aulla in the 1980s. Kinta brought her mother back to Kent, where she died, 20 years after Kinta's father, in 1964.
Kinta Beevor was a handsome woman, but did not like to be photographed. She was a fond grandmother, a knowledgeable gardener and a generous cook, who would always arrive bearing gifts from larder or garden. She made particularly good quince jelly.
Carinthia Jane Waterfield, writer: born Northbourne, Kent 22 December 1911; married 1933 John Beevor (died 1987; three sons; marriage dissolved 1956); died Canterbury 29 August 1995.
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