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A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century
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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
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. These are not two-dimensional characters, but full-bodied people trying desperately to control their destinies while falling prey to their weaknesses and vanities. The vagaries of many intersecting careers of the protagonists and their friends are examined with perfect detail and brevity, an additional window into the life of the times and an exquisite treat. From Venice, the reader is taken on a tour of the major European powers of the time, following Giustiniana and her family as they try to make their way in the decaying world of the old regime and unable to find a suitable place for themselves.

While Memmo more or less fulfills his destiny, it is Giustiniana who emerges as the most original person in the book. Her desires and career, from searching for a rich aristocrat to marry to her later success as a pioneering writer, are as facinating as they are reflections of what a troublesome person she must have been, always stepping into a hornets' nest of conventional expectations but somehow emerging admired and the nucleus of a salon that she built through friendship and talent.

There is not a single boring page in this book, and it is written with a subtle elegance that covers what is happening in the 7-years' war to the rumblings of the French Revolution and the demise of the Venetian Republic, of which Memmo might have become the last Doge. It all adds up to a masterpiece and is based on the personal correspondence of the lovers that were assembled from many different sources.

I read this in Italian, which was very difficult as there are long sections from the letters in the Venetian patois of the time. But the clarity of the writing is truly luminous. I only hope that the writer will produce more. He is truly first rate.

Highest recommendation.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2003
Format: HardcoverVerified 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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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 13, 2004
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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
i could not put down this tale of a passionate and compelling affair across the continent of europe. though i feared a sad and depressing end, the two lovers finished out lives of extraordinary satisfying modernity while still patterning the inexorable mores of their time. the shallow youths of andrea and giustiniana gave way to deeper and more likeable adults, and their trials and tribulations were captivating. at the same time, a fascinating picture is painted of slice of life in venice, paris and london of the day. read this book and give it often. i did and i have.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I wholeheartedly agree with all the readers who have praised Andrea di Robilant's elegant and stylish writing (since he is Italian, and thus English is not his first language, his merit is double). I also wish to praise his genuine involvement with his subjects, Andrea and Giustiniana, the warmth and respect with which he treats them, and the way he honours the love his late father felt for them.
Enough has been said about the book's gripping development and the way in which it brings to life the colourful and (alas) terribly gossipy and poisoned Venetian society of the time. I will add that, in spite of its liveliness, I found the book tremendously sad and moving. You can actually feel the two lovers drifting apart, separated first by their different social circumstances, then by geographical distance. You suffer at the way they try to keep their relationship alive under a different form (as friends and "brothers") while silently mourning the imposed loss of their love. You wonder at the way in which they describe their other love affairs to each other, trying perhaps to make their unnatural estrangement (and subsequent need to go on with their lives) seem normal. And you marvel at the irony of a world which would not allow them to be together while both were single, but which would permit their being lovers while Giustiniana was married, or after she had been widowed.
Of course, many questions arise. One such, that kept surfacing in my mind, was whether they did strive hard enough. It was surprising to me that the alternative of elopement, or of getting married in spite of the consequences, was never seriously considered. If my assumptions are right, it would perhaps add another issue to this touching story of human feelings: whether their love was really that deep, or there was an element of obsession, and perhaps social defiance, that did not want to go that far.
In any case, the story is wonderful and lends itself to varied readings, which Mr. di Robilant never imposes on the reader, presenting the naked facts (as far as they can be reconstructed) for each of us to make his or her very personal interpretation.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 10, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Andrea meets Giustiniana in 18th century Venice, falls in love, but because he's an aristocrat and she isn't, they cannot marry and must carry on a clandestine love affair. If it sounds like a bad Harlequin romance, that's unfortunate because this is a true story based on letters found by Di Robilant's father in Venice and Di Robilant herself at, of all places, Randolph Macon College in Virginia.

Di Robilant quotes liberally from the letters and also paraphrases to avoid mundane or dull writing. At a critical juncture, she quotes from letters exchanged with Casanova. Yes, that Casanova. He appears in the story as well.

You find yourself almost literally sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering what will become of Giustiniana and Andrea. He worries that a marriage to her would not be approved by his family, which seeks a profitable union that will further Andrea's career. Giustiniana's mother, known as Mrs. Anna, is determined to thwart the romance because she doesn't want her daughter tainted by an affair. She has high hopes for Giustiniana finding a good match of her own.

The lovers, meanwhile, cannot be parted. They carry on their affair and exchange volumes of letters. Unfortunately, at a time when we most want to know what happened between them, the letter writing either ceased or the letters are lost. Di Robilant has to guess at what might have been, which is frustrating for a reader.

All in all, a good, quick read made all the more appealing because these are real people in a situation that actually happened.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A true-live bodice ripper! Fiction doesn't get better or more outragous than this heartbreaking story. Surrounded by the faded decadent glories of 18th century Venice, this book serves up a remarkable slice of history. It stretches from the palazzos of Venice to the court of Louis XVI to London and back...seduction, romance, infidelity, love found and lost, comedy, tragedy and skeletons popping out of the family closet! This is a beautifully, bitter-sweet family story that emerges from old love letters that is told with tenderness and compassion. I've passed out half a dozen copies of this book to friends. Whether your interest is in romance or specifically the history of Venice and the period, this is a must read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The passionate, illicit love affair between the handsome Venetian aristocrat and the beautiful, illegitimate English-Greek woman is a pulse-quickening page turner, the moreso because it is all true. Di Robilant uses a recently discovered packet of 250-year-old letters to frame his story, smoothly filling in the gaps in the correspondence with careful research. All the color, intrigue and pageantry of 18th-century Venice is made vividly real, and Casanova even has a delicious, hilarious walk-on part. A delightful read. It would make a great, classy Christmas present.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I am an avid reader of historical fiction and usually dabble in non-fiction a few times a year. Venice seems to be a pull lately, and this wonderful and detailed account of two young lovers during the last days of Venice was a treat.

First, it is thrilling to read a real life account of a love forbidden by class and social snobbery, and two people who could not help themselves but to risk reputation, political power and wealth in spite of it all. Similar to fairy tales, Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne must contend with scheming enemies, jealous contenders and a watchful and foreboding mother, and in response they develop a secret code and a network of informants, allies and spies that spans Europe at times.

Second, they were pals with Casanova. How could life in Venice or Paris be boring when Casanova is around? His exploits have lived on for 250 years - thus reading anything that bears witness to his world first hand is fascinating.

Third, all is not roses in this romance. In addition to the aforementioned barriers to their love, they must also overcome infidelity, jealousy, distrust and large, looming secrets. Reading excerpts from their letters and seeing how they accomplish these feats is amazing. Giustiniana in particular shows astonishing cunning at times - and manages to accomplish a feat which today still seems impossible to the media and general public. Just goes to show how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Finally, the European scene during this time is fascinating in and of itself. I loved having the opportunity to witness it through Giustiniana's eyes and words, and watching her grow as well. We see her develop from a sheltered, dreamy adolescent into a worldly woman who was a century or more ahead of the rest of the world with regard to women's roles and freedoms. Her lost love, personal sacrifices and struggles to be accepted by society shaped her into a fascinating woman.

Andrea Di Robilant deserves enormous thanks for bringing his father's dream into fruition by translating these letters, researching family and political history, and writing it all down to share with the world.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon October 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
A Venetian Affair is one of the most beautiful romantic books I have read! It features one of my favorite romantic type of couples: star-crossed lovers. Andrea Di Robilant reveals the memoirs of one of her ancestors and the love letters he exchanged with his star-crossed lover Giustiniana. Set in Eighteenth Century Italy, Andrea Memmo is part of the Venetian aristocracy who is promised to be a powerful politician. He falls in love with an English commoner who is an illegitimate child to boot. They are forbidden to be together by both families, but especially forbidden by Giustiniana's mother, and resort to writing each other love letters that explain in details the feelings for one another as well as family background and tales of jealousy and other conundrums centered on their class differences. There are various twists throughout the book.

Andrea Di Robilant creates a novel around these beautiful and eloquent love letters. The story enthralled me from beginning to end. The backdrop of eighteenth century Venice is quite palpable -- and reading about the Venetian aristocrats and their social gatherings and balls was very insightful. The results are lyrical pages that you cannot stop reading because the prose is perfect and readable in more ways than one. Andrea and Giustiniana are a wonderful couple. The female protagonist's mother and her prejudices angered me at times, but I also understood her fears, for commoners had always resented the aristocrats. This is, all in all, a wonderfully written romantic story with rich historical references and prose that, as said earlier, just begs to be read. I cannot recommend this gem enough!
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