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A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century Paperback – April 12, 2005

4 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It's hard to imagine a more romantic real-life story than the long, forbidden love affair of the 18th-century Venetian nobleman Andrea Memmo and a half-English beauty named Giustiniana Wynne. Andrea Di Robilant's A Venetian Affair is drawn in part from a cache of letters discovered by the author's father in his ancestral palazzo on the Grand Canal. In 1753, his ancestor Andrea Memmo had been introduced to a lovely girl of uncertain station (illegitimate, although her parents later married). The Wynnes's position was precarious enough in Venice's rigid society, and Giustiniana's mother took every step to prevent the young aristocrat from corrupting her daughter. But the two lovers began to meet in secret: exchanging letters through confederates and communicating in public through an elaborate code of nods and gestures. They even came within a few days of being married before further dark revelations about Giustiniana's family put a permanent end to their hopes. Although Memmo went on to have an illustrious career in the dying Venetian Republic, it is Giustiniana's astonishing later life that really captures the reader. A Venetian Affair provides both a rich picture of the times--including cameo appearances by that scamp, Casanova--and a convincing account of an enduring passion. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The genesis of this engaging book was a stash of letters the author's father found in the old family palazzo in Venice. Written in the mid-1700s by his ancestor, Andrea Memmo, scion of an ancient Venetian family, to Giustiniana Wynne, the illegitimate daughter of a British father and a Venetian mother, these letters helped complete the picture of a romance-much of which had been detailed in the memoirs of Giacomo Casanova-that has long intrigued scholars. Taking a novelistic approach, di Robilant, a correspondent for La Stampa in Rome, weaves a narrative around selected quotations from these letters. Andrea and Giustiniana met in 1753, when he was 24 and she was not yet 17. They fell in love but couldn't marry because of their different social positions and Venetian marriage customs that protected the interests of the ruling oligarchy. Giustiniana's mother, fearing that the affair would jeopardize her daughter's chance to make a respectable marriage, forbade her to see Andrea, so the two met secretly and carried on a clandestine correspondence, writing hundreds of passionate letters full of the intimate details of their daily lives and other love affairs. In 1758, her mother took Giustiniana and her siblings to London. On the way, Giustiniana, helped by Casanova, went to a French convent and secretly gave birth to a baby that may or may not have been Andrea's, though she never mentioned this to him in her letters. The letters by themselves can be somewhat repetitive, but by skillfully combining well-chosen passages with historical background, di Robilant spins a lively, poignant tale that says much about life in 18th-century Venice and the social mores of the time.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726170
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert J. Crawford on March 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely beautiful and fascinating look into a great passion between a young patrician and a woman with a questionable past. The author's approach - it was really a family enterprise based on the 250-year old letters his father found from a direct ancestor - is to paint a wide tableau of the era from the point of view of two young and doomed lovers. Though this may sound melodramatic, it is the perfect vehicle for an incredible historic narrative, one of the best I ever read.

Andrea Memmo is the scion of an ancient Venetian family, destined by blood and talent to become one of the most powerful politican-functionaries of a dying republic. Memmo is steeped in the ideas that were "in the air" of the Enlightenment and reform, mentored by some of the most brillant men of the era, and friends with such colorful figures as Casanova and Denon, the later founder of the Louvre for Napoleon. Also witty and handsome, he seemed destined for greatness from the youngest age. Then he met Giustiniana, a semi-aristocrat whose mother was Greek and whose father was of "solid stock" from Britain, and Andrea's life took an unexpected turn involving passion, secrecy, and impossible hopes; she was one of the great beauties in the British expatriot circles. However, by tradition that extends to the Venetian bureaucracy, Memmo must marry a "correctly" aristocratic woman by family arrangement.

The author does a brilliant job of placing these two in the context of the times. As the reader, you sympathise with the concerns of all the protagonists, from Andrea's familial obligations to Giustiniana's difficult mother who wants to avoid unneceassy prying into her murky past.
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By A Customer on October 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eighteenth century Venice, with its gondoliers and masks and gambling halls and theatres, is the fascinating backdrop to Andrea di Robilant's "A Venetian Affair" where he shares with his readers the true story of his ancestor Andrea Memmo's secretive affair with a lovely young Anglo-Venetian woman, Giustiniana Wynne. And so are bustling Paris and the more subdued London of the mid Eighteenth century.
The reader will go the full gamut of emotions while reading "A Venetian Affair". Passion, desire, erotica, humor, jealousy, rage, scandal, and more color the events recounted. This is not just a story of passive emotional suffering. The lovers never stop fighting back at the obstacles imposed on them. They plan and plot and as time and separation - the other two great protagonists in their story - play their parts, the lovers invent new roles for each other.
Besides the alluring story of that clandestine love affair, the reader is also seduced by the fascinating details about the manuscripts that form the basis for the memoir: A stash of letters found in a family attic in a palazzo on the Canal Grande, over a hundred of them, that provide many missing pieces to the mosaic of the love story. The author shares with us the excitement of their discovery, and the family tragedy that ultimately destined him to be the author of this book.
"A Venetian Affair" is not only an beautiful love story well written, but also a carefully researched biography of two very important people in late Eighteenth century Venice. Andrea Memmo was one the last great statesmen of the oldest Republic in the world, and Giustiniana Wynne was an acclaimed author in her time. Memmo is still remembered today for many of his civic endeavors. Giustiniana is a 'lost' woman writer waiting to be rediscovered.
The author's style is simply delightful - sparkling and elegant. A highly recommended read.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a captivating love story, one that shouldn't be missed. Andrea Di Robilant weaves a superb tale of his ancestor, based upon the letters passed between the two lovers. What seemed amazing to me was that the letters remained for years and years in the library of Randolph-Macon College. (I was also surprised to learn that, incidentally, the author's mother went to the same college I go to, no big feat since it is relatively unknown).

It is the story of the illicit love affair between Andrea and Giustiniana, which began in 1754. Banned from seeing one another, they must communicate surreptitiously, stealing embraces and kisses whenever they can. They must hide especially from the eagle eyes of Giustiniana's Greek- English mother, Anna, who won't allow her daughter to marry a member of the Venetian aristocracy. Di Robilant also puts in excerpts from the two lovers' letters, giving the reader a sense of proximity to this book, which reads more like a novel than a straightforward book on history. The use of masks in 18th century culture is indicative of the way in which Andrea and Giustiniana must conduct their affair.

Its a beautifully written story, one of passion, jealousy, and, especially, love. I was enchanted by the language Di Robilant used to bring this story to life on the page, and by the masterful way in which he carried it out. Di Robilant catches the air of mid-18th century Venice perfectly: the salons, the balls, and the intrigues. It will keep you reading from stormy, sudden beginning to stormy, sudden ending.
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