The House in Umbria by William Trevor

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BBC Radio 7, 9 August 2009
Miss Delahunte (Prunella Scales) has it all - a successful career as a writer of romantic fiction, a devoted manservant Quinto (Sean Barrett), and an idyllic country retreat in the Umbrian hills, where she could wake up each morning and enjoy the fresh air while bashing out her latest piece of elaborate trash.
This idealized life is reinforced as a result of an unexpected train crash, involving Miss Delahunte, a general (Peter Jeffrey) and a young girl Amy (Vanessa Mann), who is so traumatized by the disaster that she is unable to speak. Miss Delahunte takes all of them back to her house to convalesce; and together they form a community that perfectly conforms to the novelist's dreams of a romantic utopia.
However all good things must come to an end. Amy's uncle Mr. Riversmith (Peter Whitman) comes to Italy from the United States to collect her; in a vain attempt to change his mind, Miss Delahunte casts him as the hero of one of her novels, who nobly gives up his familial claim in an act of supreme altruism. Riversmith brusquely refuses to participate in her fantasies - at which point Miss Delahunte's life starts to unravel. We learn that her name is not Delahunte at all (we never find out her true identity); she experienced a miserable childhood, with her parents giving her away. In a desperate attempt to eke out an existence, she turned to prostitution (in polite terms, being a 'hostess') before settling down to her chosen profession as a novelist. Although her writing is pure tosh, full of hyperbole and elaborate metaphor, it serves to protect her from the sordid realities of her past. However Trevor shows that such fantasies have now taken over her life - to such an extent that she invents an entire past for Riversmith without taking the trouble to get to know him. Fortified by liberal quantities of alcohol (drunk throughout the day), she tries to seduce him by offering Cartlandesque dreams of untold pleasure.
Eventually Riversmith manages to escape her clutches and takes Amy back to the United States. After some time we learn that the little girl has been permanently hospitalized, having failed to recover from her trauma. Miss Delahunte is at once sad yet satisfied; if Riversmith had listened to her and left the girl in Italy, perhaps this might not have occurred.
Prunella Scales was at once ingratiating yet frightening in the central role. She seemed so confident of herself that no one appeared able to stand up to her. This was part of her problem; if someone had had the guts to puncture her romantic illusions, then perhaps she would not have tried to manipulate their lives. But then again, if she did not have the chance to fantasize, she herself might have been destroyed, both emotionally and professionally. The production was directed by Sean McLoughlin.