As I make my way through narrow passages and over numerous little bridges, I am trying to imagine a Venice of two and a half centuries ago, the Venice of A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant.
Not only the book but the way it came about is intriguing. It is every writer’s dream to come across a cache of letters which tell a riveting but true story. Add to this the setting of Venice, a cast of characters that includes a beautiful English girl, a Venetian nobleman and (of course) Casanova, and a book begs to be written.
In fact it was the author’s father who happened upon the letters in a trunk in his old family palazzo on the Grand Canal. He no longer lived there. The family’s fortunes had suffered and his grandfather had sold off the Palazzo Mocenigo floor by floor. The old papers were compacted by damp and barely legible but they appeared to be a series of love letters between a Venetian ancestor of his, Andrea Memmo, and a beautiful Anglo-Venetian girl, Giustiniana Wynne. Excited, he showed the documents to his journalist son Andrea.
Di Robilant’s father had transcribed the letters with a view to publication when in 1997 events took a tragic and unexpected turn. Intruders broke into his apartment in Florence and bludgeoned him to death. The culprits were never caught and it was not until two years later that his laptop and notes were returned to his son, who vowed to complete his father’s work.
Memmo and Giustiniana’s love affair was un amore impossibile simply because of the strict morality laws of the Venetian Republic. Memmo was a nobleman. Giustiniana’s parents were an obscure English baronet and a woman with a shady reputation – and she was a Protestant. In fact Giustiniana’s father Sir Richard Wynne died shortly before the family returned from London to Venice in 1753. The children had been born in Venice, but in Giustiniana’s case, unfortunately, two years before her parents married. Subseq
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