Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Although some sections of Iris Origo’s Images and Shadows could be classified as meditative and other sections as biographical, the book clearly fits the genre of autobiography. It is divided into three main sections which follow a general chronological pattern. Part 1 deals with her family tree. Part 2 deals with her childhood, ending with her engagement to Antonio Origo. Part 3 focuses on her married adult life.

The three primary sections of the book are of unequal length. The first two are each approximately one hundred pages and the last is half that length. The longest sections, parts 1 and 2, are each subdivided into four chapters, while part 3 is a single unit. Each chapter is organized to focus on people, places, or themes. This system leads to unity within each chapter but often to the absence of chronological sequence from one chapter to another.

In addition to the three main sections, the book includes an introduction, an epilogue, an index, and illustrations. The introduction and epilogue are meditative in tone and set forth some of her personal beliefs about life and the nature of autobiography. The index is very useful because most of the people who appear in the book—family members, literary figures—are mentioned in several places. The black-and-white photographs are interspersed throughout the text so as to accompany and illustrate the text.

The four chapters of part 1 discuss, in turn, her American ancestors, her AngloIrish forebears, her father, and her mother. The first two chapters are entitled “Westbrook” and “Desart Court” not only because these homes are symbols for the families but also because these chapters describe the history of these family estates. Westbrook, the country house on the southern shore of Long Island, was the home of Origo’s paternal grandparents, both of whom were part of what she calls the “selfappointed little aristocracy of ‘Old New York.”’ William Bayard Cutting, who was president of the St. Louis, Alton, and Terre Haute Railroad and director of the Southern Pacific, was also one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Opera Company, and the New York Botanical Gardens. In...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Chapin, Katherine Garrison. “A Twentieth Century Renaissance Woman,” in The New Republic. CLXIV (May 8, 1971), pp. 25-28.

Freemantle, Anne. “The Best and Worst of Her Life: Images and Shadows,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXVI (May 23, 1971), p. 49.

Gersh, Gabriel. Review in Saturday Review. LIV (May 8, 1971), pp. 27-28.

Lindbergh, A. M. Review in The American Scholar. XLI (Winter, 1971-1972), p. 163.

Weeks, Edward. Review in The Atlantic. CCXXVIII (July, 1971), p. 101.