Venetian Affair

Venetian Affair

4.1 8
by Andrea Di Robilant

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In the attic of their old family palazzo on the Grand Canal, Andrea di Robilant's father had found the love letters of their ancestor Andrea Memmo, one of the last great Venetian statesmen, to a beautiful half-English girl named Giustiniana Wynne. Some of the letters were written in code, which di Robilant and his father cracked to reveal an illicit passion:…  See more details below


In the attic of their old family palazzo on the Grand Canal, Andrea di Robilant's father had found the love letters of their ancestor Andrea Memmo, one of the last great Venetian statesmen, to a beautiful half-English girl named Giustiniana Wynne. Some of the letters were written in code, which di Robilant and his father cracked to reveal an illicit passion: Giustiniana was not of the elite ruling class and would never have been considered a suitable match for Andrea. But their acts of devotion were startlingly brazen. As their courtship unfolds, they plot elaborate marriage schemes that offend everyone, arrange secret trysts in borrowed rooms, cause trouble for the servants who must ferry their forbidden correspondence, and even weather an unwanted pregnancy, from which Giustiniana, with her wits and ingenuity and some crucial assistance from the infamous Casanova, emerges unscathed.

Andrea di Robilant, heir to the lovers' legacy, captures them in the twilight of the golden era of Venice, with forays to the colorful social circles of London and Paris along the way. His narrative evokes the world of mask-wearing men and ladies attending Goldini plays and gambling at the Ridotto - bringing to life, 250 years later, a tale of passion and historical intrigue.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
This thoroughly fascinating chronicle of historical fact has all the hallmarks of a Henry James novel. The author's father discovered a carton of letters in an ancestral palazzo. Peeled apart page by page, they revealed the details of a love affair played out in the patrician salones of Venice, royal courts of Paris and aristocratic houses of London. While Andrea di Robilant's focus seldom wavers from the besotted couple, Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, he enriches every chapter with incidental information about contemporary mores. By the end of A Venetian Affair, a story that starts off sounding like a fairy tale has dissected a society from top to bottom, describing everything from 18th-century abortion procedures to the Venetian penchant for decorative masks. — Michael Mewshaw
The New York Times
The contradictions, complications and inscrutabilities encompassed by Andrea di Robilant in his new book, A Venetian Affair, are so wonderfully numerous that the plot at its heart very nearly defies summary. The affair in question involves beautiful, intelligent Giustiniana Wynne, the illegitimate daughter of an English baronet, and handsome, clever Andrea Memmo, a Venetian aristocrat of ancient lineage, a member of one of the ruling families that could trace their ancestry not only to the installation of the republic's first doge but all the way back to the early days of Christianity. — Angeline Goreau
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. (Sept.) Forecast: With an announced 100,000-copy printing, Knopf has high expectations for the book. Indeed, with a first serial in the New Yorker and an author tour, this book will reach its intended audience. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Serialized in The New Yorker, this romantic tale of mid-18th-century Venice purports to tell the story-using actual correspondence-of the seven-year affair between Andrea Memmo, scion of one of Venice's 12 patrician families, and beautiful, alluring Giustiniana Wynne, eldest daughter of Welsh baronet Sir Richard Wynne and Anna Gazzini, a Venetian. On the surface, this extremely well-written narrative by a descendant of Memmo seems to be another one of those bittersweet, destined-to-end-badly tales of star-crossed lovers, but Giustiniana and Andrea are far more calculating than they first appear. They become acquainted when she is 16 and he is 24 and quickly find ways to meet secretly and consummate their relationship. Because of her mother's scandalous past, Andrea cannot marry Giustiniana-though he does try. So he casts about for old men for her to seduce and wed, and their love story becomes a tad unsavory, if true to the period. The part played in this drama by the flamboyant Casanova-a friend of Memmo and possibly a lover of Giustiniana-will be of great interest to his biographers. The book reads like a novel, and there are fascinating insights into the waning days of the Venetian Republic, set against a rich background of 18th-century European history and mores. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]-Jo Manning, Barry Univ., Miami Shores, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An 18th-century affair in Venice revealed in the lovers� myriad letters, some only recently discovered. The story seems to contain all the necessary elements for a riveting tale: a beautiful young woman, a charming, upwardly mobile Venetian politician, forbidden love, clandestine meetings, help from Casanova (yes, that one), covert correspondence, a surprise pregnancy, a suspicious mother, treacherous servants, seclusion in a convent, a mystery child who disappears from history, a republic in decline—and, remarkably, so many extant letters. Some had been previously archived due to the protagonists� modest historical importance: Giustiniana Wynne, an Anglo-Venetian of illegitimate birth (and thus unable to marry above her without some political machinations), had gone on to write several books; and her lover, Andrea Memmo, had nearly won the office of doge. The author�s father, a descendant of Memmo, had recently uncovered in the old family palazzo even more letters that had lain untouched for centuries, but he did not live to realize his dream of writing about the affair. Now di Robilant, an Italian journalist, has completed the project to problematic effect. The main difficulty is the narration; the author cannot decide how to approach the subject. At times it reads like a romance novel ("she was radiant in her brocaded evening cape"), at others like a memoir, an epistolary novel, a strangely prudish biography, or an informal cultural history. Sometimes di Robilant summarizes the letters, sometimes he prints lengthy excerpts that too often fail to do more than reveal the banality of the situation and the vacuousness of the lovers. Despite a few provocative details—Andrea sentletters containing semen samples and confessed anxieties about excessive masturbation—the tone is generally bland; even Casanova comes across as a rather dull bird on a bare branch. Strong potential, poor execution. First printing of 100,000; first serial to the New Yorker; author tour

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Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.18(d)

What People are saying about this

Simon Schama
I'd like to say that A Venetian Affair is the best novel I've read in years - it's almost as good as Les Liaisons Dangereuses - except that it happens to be true. Andrea di Robilant's story of Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne is so immediate, vivid, and powerful that it takes you inside the minds and, indeed, the bodies of its two passionate protagonists. And this, in eighteenth-century Venice, is an unforgettable place to be.
John Berendt
Andrea di Robilant brilliantly evokes Venice in the age of Casanova-masked balls, elegant salons, louche casinos, and social, political, and romantic intrigue. A Venetian Affair is luminous, erotic, and utterly spellbinding.
author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
John Casey
A Venetian Affair is an enchantment. Andrea di Robilant hasn't just brought a splendid Venetian love affair to life, he has brought eighteenth-century Europe to life, both intimately and grandly. This is narrative history at its very best.
author of The Half-life of Happiness

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A Venetian Affair 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I too, liked the book, I listened to the audiobook twice and I'm reading the text now, but I still think that Andrea was a weasel and Justiniana was manipulative to the extreme. Having said this, I also believe that the two young lovers and their families were very much a product of their society, and so, their story must be seen and appreciated within the confines of 18th century Venetian affairs. The Casanova connection is an interesting one, Giacomo being the ultimate and consummate weasel, himself. In sum, for a bunch of old letters, this makes for a wonderful read. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a venetian affair was such an enchanting story. history beautifully weaved into an exciting love affain. a book i plan to read mant times. brava!