San Michele and a bygone era

Friends here in Carboneras lent me this once-famous book, a best-seller in the 1930s, translated into 45 languages.

Munthe, Axel. The Story of San Michele. 1929. Frogmore, St Albans: Mayflower, 1975.

Gossipy memoirs of a multilingual Swedish physician and psychiatrist (1857-1949), his patients -- who included Swedish and other royalty, many rich "hysterical women" and great numbers of the poor -- and of his building of his estate San Michele atop and among ancient ruins (including a palace of Roman Emperor Tiberius) on the isle of Capri. He was a good story-teller, interested not in documenting his life but in illustrating his philosophical and psychological notions by anecdotes. You would never know from this book that he ever married (he did, twice, and had two sons, one of whom performed heroic service for the British in WW II).

My favorite parts include the opening chapter, when 18-year old Munthe first discovers the ruins in the commune of Anacapri, and some of the chapters on his experiences in Paris, especially the epidemic among bored aristocrats of the imaginary disease "colitis" -- not (in Paris in the 1880's) the disease that goes by that name today, but something much more mysterious that could be blamed for the general feelings of malaise that afflict the rich and bored (at least, according to Munthe).

Here are scenes of San Michele today.

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