The Rossetti Letter

The Rossetti Letter

by Christi Phillips

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416527381
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 02/19/2008
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 703,330
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Christi Phillips is the author of The Rossetti Letter, which has been translated into six foreign languages, and The Devlin Diaries. Her research combines a few of her favorite things: old books, libraries, and travel. When she’s not rummaging around in an archive or exploring the historic heart of a European city, she lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read an Excerpt

The Hanged Man3 March 1618

Her hands looked unnaturally pale in the moonlight. For a moment, Alessandra forgot the bitter wind that kicked up an icy spray off the lagoon, and regarded her hands as though they belonged to someone else: a conspicuous ridge of bone-white knuckle, with pallid veins that were faintly visible through milky flesh. As they approached the Ponte San Biagio, she realized how tense she was, how tightly she gripped the edge of the gondola. Calm yourself, she thought, and released her grasp. You must be calm. She reclined against the seat cushions, assuming a relaxed posture she did not feel, and the coarse fabric of her costume bunched uncomfortably against her back. She chose to ignore it. If Nico sees that you are uneasy, he will insist that you return home.

Her manservant steered them into the Rio dell' Arsenale, leaving behind the lagoon where they'd hugged the shore since leaving her house at the southeast end of the city. The canal was empty and quiet, devoid of movement and light, save for the silent passage of the gondola and an occasional torchlight that trembled in the black water. The houses along both sides were shuttered and dark. They would remain that way until morning, while the inhabitants celebrated elsewhere: in the Piazza, in the smaller public squares, in the palaces along the Grand Canal. The end of Carnival was only three days away. After weeks of celebration, the revelry had built to a frenzy, as in the tale of a bewitched princess who danced for days and nights without rest. When morning dawned on Ash Wednesday, fragile and silver fogged, all of Venice wouldfall into a limitless sleep, as if under an enchantment.

They turned into the Rio di San Martino, then into a narrow waterway that circled west toward the Piazzetta dei Leoncini. In their wake, small waves gently slapped against stone foundations smothered in clumps of thick, glistening moss. She could reach out and brush the damp stone with her fingertips if she desired, so close were the buildings, and she inhaled their familiar grotto scent with a kind of reverence. Traveling through Venice at night always filled her with a rising excitement, but tonight her anticipation was tinged with fear. Alessandra tried not to think about what waited for her at the end of her journey, which was quickly approaching.

Already she could hear strains of music. Then came an indeterminate cry -- of fear, passion, or laughter? -- that echoed off stone walls and was abruptly silenced, leaving once again the oar's rhythmic squeak and splash. Soon there appeared a harbinger of the celebration at the city's center: a single gondola with a red lantern at its bow glided slowly toward them. Seated within it were two velvet-breeched men wearing the masks of pagan gods, and two elegant courtesans with feathered headdresses that resembled exotic birds, whose ruby lips and bejeweled throats gleamed in the rosy light. As the gondola passed, these fantastic creatures turned to regard her with a languid curiosity; then one of the strange, hybrid women wet her rouged mouth with her tongue and reached out her hand in silent invitation.

Alessandra felt as if she were merely a spectator at a passing show. Then she and Nico were swallowed by the shadow of a bridge and disgorged again, and all at once they were enveloped by music and light and laughter, a riot of color and strange costume, as the crowds along Calle Canonica pressed into the Piazza. Nico halted the gondola and exchanged a wordless look with Alessandra before she stepped onto the fondamenta and rushed away.

The Piazza was bright with torchlight, alive with music and revelry, but she could not join the general high spirits; the sinister maw that waited for her in the dark courtyard of the Doge's Palace filled her with dread. The bocca di leone, the lion's mouth, was a special receptacle created by the Venetian government to receive letters of denunciation. Into this bronze plaque went accusations of theft, murder, or tax evasion -- the last a particularly heinous crime according to the Great Council, the Republic's ruling assembly of two thousand noblemen. Alessandra had never imagined, until recently, that she would ever avail herself of it. Behind the bocca di leone's grotesque, gaping mouth lurked every terror hidden within the depths of the palace, the prison, and the Republic itself; surely unleashing that terror was a fearsome act not to be done with indifference.

As she pushed her way through the crowds, she was aware of the letter tucked inside the small purse tied at her waist. It bore both her personal seal and her signature. The Great Council paid no heed to anonymous letters, to discourage using the bocca di leone as a way of striking at one's enemies. Soon the marquis and his coconspirators would know who had exposed their plan, and her life would be in danger. But how could she do other than what she had set out to do tonight? The Republic was in peril. It was her civic duty to place the letter in the lion's mouth, to set the wheels of justice in motion. If she failed, more lives than just her own would be lost.

Alessandra summoned her courage and moved toward the Porta della Carta, the dark archway that led to the palace courtyard, then abruptly stopped, startled by something that had caught at the edge of her vision.

Between the two great marble columns at the foot of the Piazzetta, a dead man hung limply against a background of starless sky. His limbs were broken, his face bloodied, his bruised flesh barely covered by dirty, tattered rags. Although he was suspended on a gibbet directly above the gaming tables that crowded the space between the two columns, not one of the many costumed revelers below took notice of him.

Stirred by a gust of wind, the hanged man turned slowly on the cord that had snapped his neck. Light from a bonfire below animated his blank, staring eyes; flickering shadows played across his mouth and turned his death's grimace into a grin. Alessandra stood transfixed, as it appeared that the hanged man was still alive. She imagined that he spoke to her, his warning delivered in a harsh whisper: It could be you at the end of this rope, if you do not deliver that letter...but here is the fate of the one you love if you do.

I am damned with the Devil's own choice, Alessandra thought, but as for the one I love...she looked again at the hanged man, and it was suddenly clear that all life had left him. Just a body at the end of a rope, no more, no less, not common, but not uncommon, either. She had seen hanged men before in this very place; she knew well they did not speak. She shook her head to rid herself of the apparition and turned away. The sooner she got on with her task and was away, the better.

As for the one she loved...well, he did not love her, did he? Still, her step was slow as she walked toward the Porta della Carta. The Devil's own choice, she thought, and slipped through the archway into the shadowed, silent courtyard.

Chapter One

"...by 1618, Venice was past the apogee of its empire," Claire Donovan said as she shuffled an index card to the bottom of the stack, resisting an urge to fan herself with it. The Harriot Historical Society meeting room felt stiflingly hot. From her position at the podium, Claire saw that her audience was also suffering from the unseasonably warm weather. Program notes doubled as fans, and handkerchiefs were dabbed at brows and throats.

"Although the Republic was still a major power, it was surrounded by enemies: the Turkish Empire, France, and, most notably, Spain, the richest and most powerful country in the western world, and the dominant force in Italy. Italy was not the united country we know today, but a disparate group of territorial states, many of them under Spanish control, ruled by a Spanish viceroy or governor. The Venetian Republic stood alone in its independence; along with its fabled wealth and beauty, this vulnerability only served to tantalize those determined to conquer her.

"The duke of Ossuna set his sights upon Venice soon after assuming the viceroyalty of Milan in 1616," she continued. "But he knew he could not take the Republic on his own. He enlisted the help of the Spanish ambassador, the marquis of Bedmar..." She paused, distracted, as a bead of perspiration slid down her neck and underneath her collar. God, she was hot. It didn't help that she'd dressed up for the occasion of her first public lecture, exchanging her usual T-shirt and khakis for a skirt, blazer, and blouse; or that her long, fawn-colored hair was hanging loose instead of tied back into a neat, and much cooler, braid. She glanced at her notes on the 1618 Spanish Conspiracy against Venice, trying to regain her place and her rhythm.

"The marquis of Bedmar," she began again, then stopped as she heard a soft, wheezing whisper from somewhere in the audience. It was followed by the creak of metal folding chairs, the rustle of bodies, a few dry, muffled coughs. They weren't exactly enraptured, Claire realized, feeling a sudden flush of self-consciousness. One instant her thoughts had been on her scribbled notes, the words in her mind, and the images she envisioned: seventeenth-century Venice, Alessandra Rossetti on her fateful trip to the bocca di leone. The next instant she was just someone standing in front of a small group of people she hardly knew, feeling much too hot and not quite sure of what she was doing.

This didn't bode well for her future success. If she couldn't give a captivating talk to the members of the Harriot Historical Society, how would she ever present her doctoral dissertation to her adviser, the notoriously caustic Claudius Hilliard, and the rest of the Harvard committee who would watch her with judgmental, silent stares?

She took a sip of water from the plastic cup on the podium and looked up from her index cards. Elroy Dugan was fast asleep, but the other audience members still seemed interested. They were all women, all well over seventy years old, and they all looked up at her with expressions of encouraging expectation. Maybe her lecture wasn't going quite as badly as she'd imagined.

Claire smiled at them and brushed the perspiration from her brow. "The marquis of Bedmar, Spanish ambassador to Venice..." she said, her voice trailing off. Odd. Her notes were blurry. Her ears suddenly seemed to be stuffed with cotton. Her legs felt shaky, her head woozy. She gripped the sides of the podium to steady herself.

In the front row, Mrs. Branford Biddle, the historical society's director, leaned forward, looking concerned.

"Venice...," Claire began once more, and wondered why Mrs. Biddle seemed to be lunging straight at her.

"Miss Donovan." A woman was speaking to her. Why couldn't she answer? "Miss Donovan, please stick out your tongue." It seemed an odd but perfectly reasonable request, so she complied.

Claire not only heard but felt someone walking toward her. She understood then that she was lying on the floor, which was rather uncomfortable. Why was she lying on the floor? And why was she sticking out her tongue?

"Why is she sticking out her tongue?" Mrs. Biddle asked. Even in Claire's confused state, Mrs. Biddle's voice was unmistakable: it had the grating edge of a woman who was accustomed to having things her own way.

"I was afraid she might swallow it," the first woman answered. "It can happen when people faint."

I fainted? Claire opened her eyes. The historical society's secretary, Adela Crenshaw, was kneeling beside her, gently patting her left hand. The other society members stood behind Adela in a concerned semicircle.

"Can it?" asked Mrs. Biddle, entirely unconvinced.

"I learned about it from a CPR course on the internet." Adela turned back to Claire and saw that she was conscious. "Ah, there she is."

"I fainted?" Claire asked. Adela smiled radiantly at her. But it was Mrs. Biddle, still standing over them, who answered.

"Yes, you fainted. Passed out cold and toppled like a ton of bricks. Good thing I caught you. And very good thing I spent my youth breaking in wild Arabians" -- horses, Claire wondered, or people? -- "or I would be a frail old lady lying underneath you with a broken hip. Okay, everyone, show's over. She's fine. Please help yourselves to iced tea and cookies in the reception area."

The others moved away to the vestibule as Adela and Mrs. Biddle helped Claire to her feet.

"This will make a very interesting story for the next newsletter," Mrs. Biddle said. "Wouldn't you say, Adela?"

"Very interesting. No one's ever passed out at the podium before," Adela explained.

Not for the first time did Claire reflect on the drawbacks of living in a town with fewer than a thousand inhabitants. Although she loved its Cape Cod locale and waterside ambience, loved that she could walk to the post office and the library and the General Store (and that there was a store actually named General Store), it was not possible to live an entirely private life in Harriott. Claire was certain that everyone would know she'd fainted while giving a talk to a small group of geriatrics, long before the historical society newsletter came out.

"Even Joshua Deerbottom," Mrs. Biddle broke in on her thoughts, "who is ninety-three years old, made it through his entire lecture on the Battle of Buzzards Bluff without once falling over. You're such a young thing, we did expect you to be able to stand for at least twenty minutes or so. You seem to be well enough."

If she were to rate her level of embarrassment from one to ten, Claire figured that she was hovering right around a nine.

Mrs. Biddle looked her over carefully. "Are you pregnant?"

And this was ten. "No."

"Well, there must be a reason."

"I think I just got too hot."

They had started toward the vestibule when Adela exclaimed brightly, "I almost forgot. We have something to show you." Claire followed them to the historical society office.

"Bitsy, do you know where I put it?" asked Adela, addressing Mrs. Biddle as Claire marveled that the petite but formidable woman should ever be spoken to so familiarly.

"Put what?" Mrs. Biddle said.

"The printout of that article I found on the internet. The one about Venice." Adela rifled through a few stacks of paper on her desk. "Oh, here it is." She handed two pages to Claire. "It seemed very much like the subject of your lecture."

VENICE CONFERENCE TO FEATURE NEW STUDIES IN VENETIAN HISTORY, the headline read. The article, from the online edition of the International Herald Tribune, announced that the upcoming five-day conference was being hosted by the Department of History at the University Ca' Foscari and would be attended by historians from all over Europe.

"Look at the second page, dear."

Claire turned to the second page of the article. Adela had kindly bracketed the crucial paragraph:

"Highlights of the conference include visiting history professor Andrea Kent of Trinity College, Cambridge, whose book in progress, The Spanish Conspiracy of 1618, will provide the subject matter for two lectures."

"Oh my god," Claire gasped. She would have sat down in shock except for the fact that there was only one chair in the room, and Adela was already in it.

"Maybe you should go and reveal passages from your book, too," said Adela encouragingly.

Even if she could afford a trip to Venice, there wasn't a chance she'd be asked to give a paper there. She wasn't a professor; she didn't even have her doctorate yet. But that wasn't her most important concern. What would happen if Andrea Kent's book was published before her dissertation was completed? She had believed the Spanish Conspiracy to be so obscure that her dissertation was unique -- a crucial quality if she were going to stand out in the crowd of new Ph.D.s competing for a handful of teaching positions. This book was disturbing news indeed; its very existence could ruin her life.

"Do you have any more information on this conference?" Claire asked.

"I'm sorry, no," Adela replied. "I just happened to come across this while I was looking for something else."

"I can guess what you were looking for," Mrs. Biddle harrumphed.

"And what's wrong with it? I've met some very nice gentlemen on the internet. In fact, I have a date for brunch on Sunday."

"That's five dates in three weeks," Mrs. Biddle said indignantly. "You're an eighty-year-old nymphomaniac."

"I am not," Adela protested. "I'm seventy-nine."

Copyright © 2007 by Christi Phillips

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
The Rossetti Letter
by Christi Phillips

Introduction
In seventeenth-century Venice, Alessandra Rossetti becomes entangled in a dangerous political conspiracy when the Spanish viceroy of Naples and the Spanish ambassador to Venice devise a scheme to bring the Venetian Republic under the dominance of Spain. Historians know that Alessandra wrote a letter to the Venetian Council exposing the plot, but they have never been able to determine how she learned of the conspiracy or what became of the young courtesan after the treachery was revealed.
Claire Donovan, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, is researching Alessandra's role in the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618. Divorced and broke, Claire has doubts that she will ever make it to Venice to complete her thesis. When she finds out that an academic rival is researching the Spanish Conspiracy for a book, she reluctantly agrees to her best friend's suggestion that she chaperone a wealthy, spoiled teenage girl on an Italian vacation. Claire is soon on her way to Venice, where Cambridge University professor Andrew Kent is lecturing on the conspiracy at an academic conference. If Kent's theory that Alessandra was a co-conspirator of the Spanish proves right, it will destroy Claire's work — jeopardizing not just her dissertation but her future in academia.
The Rossetti Letter weaves together Claire's and Alessandra's stories in alternating narratives, bringing to life Venice both past and present. As Claire races to discover the truth about Alessandra's role in the conspiracy, she explores Venice with a beguiling Italian man, matches wits with worthy adversary Andrew Kent, helps a troubled young girl find her way, and learns a thing or two about bouncing back from heartbreak and living la dolce vita.

Questions & Topics for Discussion

  1. Discuss the novel's structure. Did the alternating chapters between the past and the present enrich the reading experience? How so? In what ways does this technique allow the author to heighten the suspense in the story?
  2. Claire's dissertation "filled her thoughts so completely that sometimes it was a shock, at the end of the day, to find herself returned to her mundane, uneventful, twenty-first century existence" (25). Completing her dissertation is an important milestone in Claire's career, but is she in a sense using the past to avoid living in the present? Why has Claire, as her friend Meredith claims, shut herself away?
  3. Claire's first impression of Gwen is a negative one, and it's reinforced by the teen's inappropriate behavior during the flight to Venice. How does Claire come to change her opinion of Gwen during their time together? What does Gwen gain from her trip to Venice and also from Claire's influence?
  4. When Alessandra finds out she is nearly penniless, why does she choose to become a courtesan rather than opt for one of the more traditional solutions to her predicament, such as entering a convent or living with relatives? Is it possible for modern-day readers to fully understand the constraints placed on women during this time period? Why or why not?
  5. "Claire wondered how Alessandra felt about being a courtesan. She preferred to think that her heroine was happy, or at least complacent, knowing that she'd made the best of what life had offered her. But was it possible to be happy living the life that Alessandra lived? Or even content?" (152). Given what you know of Alessandra, how do you suppose she would answer these questions?
  6. When Antonio first meets Alessandra, he is impressed with her "incredible self-possession" (161). What makes Alessandra, as Antonio acknowledges, different from the other women he has known? What compels him to confide in Alessandra the story of his ill-fated love and his father's death, something he has kept to himself for nine years?
  7. Discuss the author's depiction of Venice, both in the seventeenth century and the present. How integral is the Venetian setting to the story? How does the author's use of historical facts about Venice color the narrative? Is this an aspect of the book you enjoyed? Why or why not?
  8. "I did what I had to do," La Celestia says (322) about being pressured to arrange Alessandra's introduction to the marquis of Bedmar. Is La Celestia as much of a political pawn in this situation as Alessandra? Do you have any empathy for La Celestia? Why or why not?
  9. At her manservant Nico's suggestion, Alessandra writes a letter detailing what she knows of the Spanish ambassador's plot and sets out to deliver it to the Great Council. What motivates Alessandra to take this course of action — fear for her own safety, to avenge La Celestia's murder, a sense of civic duty, or something else?
  10. What does Claire see in Giancarlo? Is she merely attracted to his good looks? Is he the kind of man with whom Claire will be able to build a life-long romantic relationship?
  11. What prompts Claire to ask Andrew for help in translating Alessandra's letters? Does this encounter change their relationship personally as well as professionally? Why do you suppose Andrew is involved in a romantic relationship with a woman as unbecoming as Gabriella?
  12. "Our job is to discover the truth, not make it up," Andrew says to Claire. Ultimately, what benefits Claire more in uncovering the truth about Alessandra's role in the Spanish conspiracy: her training as a historian or her intuition?
  13. During his second lecture at the academic conference, why does Andrew call Claire to the podium and invite her to deliver the lecture? Did you find this to be a surprising gesture given his contentious history with Claire? Why does Claire at first refuse to take the stage when Andrew is offering her the very thing she came to Venice to seek — recognition for her work?
  14. What is the tipping point that finally compels Antonio and Alessandra to acknowledge their love for one another?
  15. When Alessandra is imprisoned in the Doge's palace, does she make the right decision? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
  16. Discuss the novel's ending. Were you surprised at the direction Alessandra's life takes? What instances in the story foreshadowed this turn of events?


Enhance Your Book Club
  1. Take a virtual tour of Venice at www.italyguides.it, where you can view panoramas of the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), and other sites mentioned in The Rossetti Letter.
  2. Play music by Vivaldi at your book club meeting. The Venetian composer is mentioned numerous times in the book, including the scene in which Claire dines at the Baldessaris' palazzo on the Grand Canal.
  3. Serve the meal that Claire dined on her first night in Venice: mixed green salad and spaghetti alla vongole. A recipe for this pasta dish with clams can be found at www.suppertonight.co.uk/spaghettiallavongole.htm. Or opt for a classic margherita pizza, as did Gwen. Whatever you choose to eat, follow Claire's lead and sample a white Italian wine like pinot grigio.
  4. Learn more about the history of Carnival and view photos of past celebrations at www.carnivalofvenice.com. There are also resources, tips, and advice for those who'd like to attend the Venetian extravaganza.

Introduction

Reading Group Guide

The Rossetti Letter

by Christi Phillips

Introduction

In seventeenth-century Venice, Alessandra Rossetti becomes entangled in a dangerous political conspiracy when the Spanish viceroy of Naples and the Spanish ambassador to Venice devise a scheme to bring the Venetian Republic under the dominance of Spain. Historians know that Alessandra wrote a letter to the Venetian Council exposing the plot, but they have never been able to determine how she learned of the conspiracy or what became of the young courtesan after the treachery was revealed.

Claire Donovan, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, is researching Alessandra's role in the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618. Divorced and broke, Claire has doubts that she will ever make it to Venice to complete her thesis. When she finds out that an academic rival is researching the Spanish Conspiracy for a book, she reluctantly agrees to her best friend's suggestion that she chaperone a wealthy, spoiled teenage girl on an Italian vacation. Claire is soon on her way to Venice, where Cambridge University professor Andrew Kent is lecturing on the conspiracy at an academic conference. If Kent's theory that Alessandra was a co-conspirator of the Spanish proves right, it will destroy Claire's work — jeopardizing not just her dissertation but her future in academia.

The Rossetti Letter weaves together Claire's and Alessandra's stories in alternating narratives, bringing to life Venice both past and present. As Claire races to discover the truth about Alessandra's role in the conspiracy, she explores Venice with a beguiling Italian man,matches wits with worthy adversary Andrew Kent, helps a troubled young girl find her way, and learns a thing or two about bouncing back from heartbreak and living la dolce vita.

Questions & Topics for Discussion

  1. Discuss the novel's structure. Did the alternating chapters between the past and the present enrich the reading experience? How so? In what ways does this technique allow the author to heighten the suspense in the story?
  2. Claire's dissertation "filled her thoughts so completely that sometimes it was a shock, at the end of the day, to find herself returned to her mundane, uneventful, twenty-first century existence" (25). Completing her dissertation is an important milestone in Claire's career, but is she in a sense using the past to avoid living in the present? Why has Claire, as her friend Meredith claims, shut herself away?
  3. Claire's first impression of Gwen is a negative one, and it's reinforced by the teen's inappropriate behavior during the flight to Venice. How does Claire come to change her opinion of Gwen during their time together? What does Gwen gain from her trip to Venice and also from Claire's influence?
  4. When Alessandra finds out she is nearly penniless, why does she choose to become a courtesan rather than opt for one of the more traditional solutions to her predicament, such as entering a convent or living with relatives? Is it possible for modern-day readers to fully understand the constraints placed on women during this time period? Why or why not?
  5. "Claire wondered how Alessandra felt about being a courtesan. She preferred to think that her heroine was happy, or at least complacent, knowing that she'd made the best of what life had offered her. But was it possible to be happy living the life that Alessandra lived? Or even content?" (152). Given what you know of Alessandra, how do you suppose she would answer these questions?
  6. When Antonio first meets Alessandra, he is impressed with her "incredible self-possession" (161). What makes Alessandra, as Antonio acknowledges, different from the other women he has known? What compels him to confide in Alessandra the story of his ill-fated love and his father's death, something he has kept to himself for nine years?
  7. Discuss the author's depiction of Venice, both in the seventeenth century and the present. How integral is the Venetian setting to the story? How does the author's use of historical facts about Venice color the narrative? Is this an aspect of the book you enjoyed? Why or why not?
  8. "I did what I had to do," La Celestia says (322) about being pressured to arrange Alessandra's introduction to the marquis of Bedmar. Is La Celestia as much of a political pawn in this situation as Alessandra? Do you have any empathy for La Celestia? Why or why not?
  9. At her manservant Nico's suggestion, Alessandra writes a letter detailing what she knows of the Spanish ambassador's plot and sets out to deliver it to the Great Council. What motivates Alessandra to take this course of action — fear for her own safety, to avenge La Celestia's murder, a sense of civic duty, or something else?
  10. What does Claire see in Giancarlo? Is she merely attracted to his good looks? Is he the kind of man with whom Claire will be able to build a life-long romantic relationship?
  11. What prompts Claire to ask Andrew for help in translating Alessandra's letters? Does this encounter change their relationship personally as well as professionally? Why do you suppose Andrew is involved in a romantic relationship with a woman as unbecoming as Gabriella?
  12. "Our job is to discover the truth, not make it up," Andrew says to Claire. Ultimately, what benefits Claire more in uncovering the truth about Alessandra's role in the Spanish conspiracy: her training as a historian or her intuition?
  13. During his second lecture at the academic conference, why does Andrew call Claire to the podium and invite her to deliver the lecture? Did you find this to be a surprising gesture given his contentious history with Claire? Why does Claire at first refuse to take the stage when Andrew is offering her the very thing she came to Venice to seek — recognition for her work?
  14. What is the tipping point that finally compels Antonio and Alessandra to acknowledge their love for one another?
  15. When Alessandra is imprisoned in the Doge's palace, does she make the right decision? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
  16. Discuss the novel's ending. Were you surprised at the direction Alessandra's life takes? What instances in the story foreshadowed this turn of events?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Take a virtual tour of Venice at www.italyguides.it, where you can view panoramas of the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), and other sites mentioned in The Rossetti Letter.
  2. Play music by Vivaldi at your book club meeting. The Venetian composer is mentioned numerous times in the book, including the scene in which Claire dines at the Baldessaris' palazzo on the Grand Canal.
  3. Serve the meal that Claire dined on her first night in Venice: mixed green salad and spaghetti alla vongole. A recipe for this pasta dish with clams can be found at www.suppertonight.co.uk/spaghettiallavongole.htm. Or opt for a classic margherita pizza, as did Gwen. Whatever you choose to eat, follow Claire's lead and sample a white Italian wine like pinot grigio.
  4. Learn more about the history of Carnival and view photos of past celebrations at www.carnivalofvenice.com. There are also resources, tips, and advice for those who'd like to attend the Venetian extravaganza.

Christi Phillips is the author of The Rossetti Letter, which has been translated into five foreign languages. Her research combines a few of her favorite things: old books, libraries, and travel. When she's not rummaging around in an archive or exploring the historic heart of a European city, she lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is at work on her next novel, set in France. Visit www.christi-phillips.com.

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Rossetti Letter 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
AlisaLorrine More than 1 year ago
Although most of this book is fictional, the world of Venice and its history is very real. I was in vacation in Venice while I was reading this book and I was conflicted about experiencing Venice through the book or in real life! Granted, I was visiting in winter and it was freezing, so sitting in my hotel reading was not an odd thing to do... but it really was a page turner.. or for us nook users, a button pusher. At first, I kept wanted to read the sections about Rossetti, because they were such interesting chapters, but then as the modern day characters developed and plot thickened, I became excited to read the current day chapters. I'm mostly a historical fiction person, and this was a great breath of fresh air, as its half modern day and half historical. An absolute must read.
nomadreader on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Synopsis (adapted from publisher): Claire Donovan has always dreamed of visiting Venice, and she's finishing her Ph.D. thesis on Alessandra Rossetti, a mysterious courtesan who wrote a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. Claire views Alessandra as a heroine and harbors a secret hope that her findings will elevate Alessandra to a more prominent place in history. But an arrogant Cambridge professor is set to present a paper at a prestigious Venetian university denouncing Alessandra as a co-conspirator -- a move that could destroy Claire's paper and career. As Claire races to locate the documents that will reveal the courtesan's true motives, Alessandra's story comes to life with all the sensuality, political treachery, and violence of seventeenth-century Venice. Claire also falls under the city's spell.Review: I already knew and loved Claire, but it was refreshing to get some more background on her life. Perhaps because I'm in graduate school, I easily identified with her as she sought to finish her dissertation and find a job. The story alternates between Alessandra's life in 1618 and Claire's modern day life. The stories worked well together, and I found myself equally interested in both. Venice is always a divine book setting, and the city was almost a character in this novel. I will say I initially had a hard time remembering some of the characters from the 1600's, but the list of characters at the front of the book was quite helpful and jogged my memory. My one complaint about the book is trivial: I wanted a map. Venice is such a huge part of the story, and I'm reasonably familiar with the city (I've visited twice), but I still pulled out maps to see where the action was. There was a sense that the relative geography had more importance than it actually did. I always appreciate maps at the beginning of books, and this one would have been an especially good candidate.
Kasthu on LibraryThing 20 days ago
The Rossetti Letter is a dual time period novel. In the modern day, Claire Donovan is completing her doctoral degree in early modern European history, writing her dissertation on the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618, in which the Spanish ambassador to Venice planned a takeover of the Republic. The plot of the conspiracy was denounced by a courtesan named Alessandra Rossetti, who had lovers in many influential places. Claire travels to Venice, where she finds that someone else, a well-known Cambridge historian, is writing a book on the exact same subject she is.I enjoyed the historical part of this novel much more than the modern-day bits. It¿s clear that the author doesn¿t know much about modern-day academia. First, it stretches credibility that someone completing her doctorate would not have visited the country in which her dissertation is set. Claire¿s dissertation is on the Spanish Conspiracy, yet before the events of the book, she¿d never set foot in Venice or Spain to do her research. OK, I¿ll buy that she doesn¿t have much money, but in that case, wouldn¿t she have gotten a grant or some kind of funding to travel?I didn¿t really understand why Claire wouldn¿t have known about Andrew Kent¿s research. Isn¿t it the job of an academic to know who their competition is, especially if that competition is supposedly well-known in their field of study? Then there are the scenes in the Biblioteca Marciana. I found it hard to believe that Claire would be able to just send an e-mail, flash her idea, and waltz right on into a prestigious library. Don¿t you need letters of reference or something for entrance if you¿re still a student? It seemed strange to me that a librarian of a prestigious Venetian library would disclose information about who had a prior hold on a book¿or that she would suggest that Claire use sex to get what she wants. I guess the author was trying to make a connection between Alessandra and Claire, but it was really unrealistic all the same. If Claire reads and writes Italian, then why is she reading her sources in an English translation, in an abridged format? I was also a bit disturbed by her, and Gwen¿s blatant disregard for government property later on in the book.However, as I said, I really enjoyed the historical half of the book. The author clearly loves Venice and early modern history, and the city of Venice comes alive in the pages of this novel. I¿ve only made one trip to Venice, but I loved it while I was there; and it¿s always good to find someone else who loves it, too. The early 17th century in Europe was a time of great change¿as well as of great danger¿and Phillips outlines the conspiracy very well, as Spain¿s power waned on the even of the Thirty Years¿ War. The historical part of the book is clearly well-researched, and I enjoyed reading along to figure out the mystery. The story moves very quickly, and the transition from one time period to the other isn¿t jarring. I¿ve read Phillips¿s other book, The Devlin Diary, and enjoyed it for the most part, too¿but I had the same kind of problems with it as I had with this book.
Freisianbeauty on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Traces of Kate Mosse came to mind when I read this one..... in a good way... As much as I enjoyed this I felt there was something missing. At times it was just a book, but at others you could really feel the atmosphere and feeling of danger. I picked this one up on a whim and am glad I did. Am curious now and intrested in reading her other works.
turtlesleap on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Claire Donovan is a 21st Century doctoral candidate researching an incident in 17th Century Venetian history for her dissertation. As Claire's story unfolds, the reader is taken back for interludes in 17th Century Venice as the subject of Claire's dissertation actually unfolds. While not a new approach to historical fiction, this was handled deftly enough by the author to be entertaining. The book was pleasant and readable without being substantial enough to be highly recommended. If you read it, watch for the interactions between Claire and her 14 year old charge, Gwen. This interaction is, by far, the most authentic characterization in the book.
kjlou on LibraryThing 20 days ago
You get two novels in each of Christie Phillips' books, this one and The Devlin Diaries. Her books intertwine a present day story and a historical story. Both of which are very well written and interesting with a spattering of humor here and there. She writes the present day story with all the common trappings of our time and then so eloquently writes the past as if she had been there herself. The Rossetti Letter is more story of the present than the past. Her second book, The Devlin Diaries, even though it too is a novel of present and past is more of a history novel. I preferred The Devlin Diaries over The Rossetti Letter just simply for that fact, more history novel. The Rossetti Letter is set in Venice which adds an aura of its own to the story. The Devlin Diaries is set in England I believe.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing 20 days ago
I wish it were possible to review a book by cutting it up into three separate books. Because two out of the three would get favorable reviews from me while the third... well, I don't think I'd have read the third after the first 20 pages or so if I had the choice.Basically, The Rossetti Letter is three stories - that of modern-time Claire, out to prove her dissertation on Alessandra Rossetti, that of Alessandra, a courtesan who lived in seventeenth century Venice, and finally, a political conspiracy taking place in Venice in which Alessandra has a part in.The modern story, I think, is given more credit in the summary than deserves, but it was entertaining, I found Claire likeable, I found the reason she actually got to go to Venice a bit laughable, and the relationships formed in Venice a bit contrived, but still - it was mindless fun.I actually enjoyed Alessandra's story the most. I enjoyed learning about the lifestyle, the choices given to women without dowry and I had no idea that only one son in a family was usually allowed to marry, thereby making courtesans "necessary evils".But the political, historical stuff - seriously, I felt so lost and I floundered my way through it because, frankly, it just wasn't that interesting. If the book had more of that part of the story in it then it did, then I honestly would not have finished the book, because as much as I enjoyed Alessandra and was amused by Claire, it wouldn't have been worth the boredom.But, for the $5 this book ended up costing me - it was an okay read, just nothing to write home about.
Ildika on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Loved this book! A really great read. The imagery of 17th century Venice evoked through Phillips' writing is incredible and provides the perfect setting for this story about love, betrayal, intrigue and adventure. The characters were well formed and the plot intricately woven with brilliant historical detail. Eagerly awaiting the next Phillips novel!
mariacfox on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This was definitely an entertaining read...but there is nothing new in this book. Some parts I felt were a little TOO similar to Pride & Prejudice / Bridget Jones' Diary (especially some of the character dialogue...) and the plot is predictable (classic historic/romantic mystery). However, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to any lover of the genre wanting to be entertained but not necessarily surprised.
hlsabnani on LibraryThing 20 days ago
I loved this book! I've always wanted to go to Venice and that is only reinforced now. The book reminded me of a slightly lighter version of "Possession" though I must say I enjoyed this book more. The characters seemed very real to me and at times had me laughing out loud. I really hope that there is a sequel to the book as Phillips seemed to leave room for one at the end.
AlmondJoy on LibraryThing 20 days ago
Blending fact and fiction with suspense and sensuality, Christi Phillips tells the story of a modern historian who uncovers a courtesan's secret role in a shocking conspiracy in seventeenth-century Venice. A wonderful first novel that captures your interest from the first page. Combines a tone reminiscent of a Mary Stewart novel with the intrigue of Dan Brown. Highly recommend
tmbcoughlin on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This book easily shifts from current day to the time of the Spanish conspiracy. It gives you a rich sense of the challenges in Venice at the time and weaves in a romance as well. It also tells a realistic current day story that incorporates the Spanish conspiracy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I’m so sad to find that this author has only written this one book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and was ready to order her next endeavor. The interweaving of fiction, facts, and the descriptions of Venice are perfect. I’ve only been to Venice once but cannot get her out of my soul.
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I loved this book. It was an easy and fun read with great insight into historical Venice. Perfect if your'e looking for a vacation read while traveling in Italy!
ValentineCO More than 1 year ago
I really like the play on past verse present, the historical research involved, the puzzles and the love interest. The characters are a mix of intelligent and interesting. I enjoyed this book.
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