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A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century Paperback – April 12, 2005
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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.
I loved hearing the view of the times thru the main characters eyes. I learned much about life, rules, and politics in this time and place.
Also, what a great romance. It is easy to relate, even today, on loves lost, loves that can not withstands the trails of time, loves that should not be.