My Favourite Island
7 9 2019
My Favourite Island

Benjamin Taylor on the eccentrics who found a home on Capri

Since Roman times, the island of Capri has attracted strange people, according to Benjamin Taylor in his lecture Capri Revisited. Speaking in the former church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Taylor, author of the travel memoir Naples Declared, shared his love of the island, alongside his fascination with eccentric foreign visitors to the place over the centuries. From emperor Caesar Augustus in 29BC, to the British writer Norman Douglas, who died in 1952, Capri has housed those whose tastes deviated from that which was considered acceptable in the rest of the world.

Taylor described visiting the Cimitero Acattolica, where non-Catholics of the island are buried. The British actress Gracie Fields has her grave in this cemetery, alongside the German film-maker Veit Harlan, who directed what is considered one of the most anti-Semitic films of all time. The English would-be writer John Ellingham Brooks, a close friend of Somerset Maugham, is also buried there. He came to Capri for lunch and stayed forever, he apparently liked to say.

Taylor dedicated the rest of his lecture to the British writer Norman Douglas, a contemporary of Graham Greene. Douglas, who inspired successive generations of travel writers including Robert Byron, Colin Thubron and Pico Iyer, felt a deep affinity with South Italy. Taylor considers him a lost citizen of Rome or Ancient Greece, accidentally born in the wrong century. Greene, on the other hand, learnt barely a word of Italian during his many visits to Capri, because he was only interested in writing.