One of the stars of The Remarkable Mrs Anderson is the narrator’s car, a “dark blue Lancia of the newer model”. It is clearly open top, variously described as two seater, blue, fast (“my poor little Lancia’s speedometer hovered between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and twenty five [kmh]”) and a relatively common model on the Italian roads (“there are plenty of Lancias of my sort here in Italy, but there can’t be more than two with Hungarian plates”).
The narrator, Tibor Vida, a successful operetta composer, single and approaching middle-age, buys it from a diplomat in Palermo while on holiday in Sicily, where he, Tibor, has gone to recover from a failed affair (“my first taste of that particular medicine from the receiving end”) and enjoy the financial rewards of his latest operetta (“Shakuntala, an international hit, with two runs in London’s West End”). And where of course he will meet the remarkable Hungarian journalist, art historian and ex-wife of Mr T.W. Anderson of Chicago – we hear no more of the latter.
The car in the picture above is a Lancia Belna Cabriolet (F234), and as a convertible Lancia it meets many of the scant criteria that Tibor provides. But this model was manufactured from 1934 to 1937, raising questions of when Miklós Bánffy intended his novella to be set. The story is not about politics – indeed the author was consciously escaping the terrible politics of his time writing in near-captivity, a class enemy in the second half of the 1940s in what had been a family house in Cluj Napoca in communist Romanian Transylvania – and no specific historic events are given. The period is inter-bellum, Italy is clearly fascist, but had been since Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922. There are indications of the poverty of the time, also maybe – pointing to the 30s rather than 20s – of a scarcity of foreign tourists: Tibor and Mrs Anderson are “practically the only guests” in the lakeside hotel in Genzano di Roma.
So for the moment we conclude that The Remarkable Mrs Anderson may be set in the 1930s, and the Lancia may indeed be the 1934-37 Lancia Belna above. But possibly blue all over without the white sides. And a surprising choice for a sensitive and musical composer: “my little Lancia tore along with fresh, eager energy. She has no silencer to speak of, and the four stroke-engine hammered a joyous, deafening rhythm.” Maybe he was more of a composer of rollicking operettas than sensitive sonatas …