Dorothy Carrington's magical and atmospheric book about Corsica - Granite Island - has been republished as a Penguin Classic edition. For those of you who purchased (or have read) the original, there is one important reason why you should acquire this new edition: the book contains a full and brightly written introduction by Rolli Lucarotti. This introduction gives a full and interesting account of the author's colourful life and career.
To my great regret, I never met Dorothy Carrington, though I have met a number of people who knew her personally as a friend or acquaintance. Without exception, all speak warmly of her and some of this warmth radiates from the pages containing Rolli's introductory words. Without giving too much away, she tells us of Dorothy's dramatic early life, leaving university because of "the way English was taught" and also because of "the restrictions placed on women who were not expected to do much more than read". So she eloped with an Austrian aristocrat and went to live in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It was here that she began writing articles for magazines and where the foundations of her writing career were established.
However, the annexation of Austria by Germany as World War II approached caused her to rethink: finding herself with a German Passport, she divorced her husband and hurried back to England. Her first visit to Corsica did not happen until 1948.
Although Dorothy Carrington's research for Granite Island took place in the years between 1948 and the 1960s, the book is still gripping, still relevant and most important of all, still highly readable (despite being used as a textbook in social anthropology studies, according to Rolli's introduction!) Unlike conventional travel books that give a dry potted history and travelogue as separate sections, the author weaves present-day characters, historical perspective and her own experiences into her account of the island.
One of the great achievements of this work is that it forms a literary bridge between the Corsica that we know today and the dark, brooding Corsica of Prosper Merimée's Colomba - traces of which were still there in 1948. I don't know if there are any mazzeri (harbingers of death) or voceratrici (singers who perform improvised verses at funerals) still practising in Corsica's remote mountain villages now, but Dorothy Carrington made it her business to meet both and put their activities into perspective. And it's this perspective that's so fascinating, for it includes Corsica's Neolithic past, its bandits and vendettas, its Genoese overlords and the island's peculiar relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. It seems that until recently Mass-going Corsicans still harboured primeval superstitions and, in executing their "duties" in a vendetta, sometimes tried to kill their victims while they were known to be in a state of mortal sin, thus ensuring their consignment to the eternal flames.
But it's not all darkness and gloom. Granite Island is witty in places and the author paints wonderful word pictures of all the places she visited. Some of these are places I know well. If you love Corsica and haven't yet read Granite Island, here's your opportunity. If you have, it's still worth getting this new low-cost edition just for the introduction.
Well worth a read!