Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon

September 20, 2008 at 10:45 am (books) (, , , , )


Only half-way through this biography, I grow more and more fond of the story it tells and the way it tells it. Based on letters (and other primary sources) written by Lucia Mocenigo (née Memmo), who spent her early life in Rome and Venice and her middle-years in Napoleonic-era Vienna, author Andrea di Robilant has penned an even more fascinating look at a relative of his than in his last book – the lyrical A Venetian Affair. That biography explored the love letters between Andrea Memmo (Lucia’s father) and Giustiniana Wynne (related to the Wynne sisters of the diary series, The Wynne Diaries: 1789-1820 [3 vols.], edited by Anne Fremantle).

Here, Lucia is the focus, along with her beloved sister Paolina (to whom many of the surviving letters were addressed), with a good dollop of war and privilege. Lucia’s son, Alvisetto, reminds me a lot of little Charles Smith (Lady Smith’s son), when I read such passages as this:

Alvisetto’s tutor ‘wasted little time in expressing his displeasure at how much the boy had fallen behind in Latin and arithmetic, how easily he was distracted, and just how plain lazy he could be.’ (199)

And when such passages as this next comes up, you think immediately of the diaries of Fanny Burney:

‘”I lead the dullest existence, rushing from my apartment to Court and from Court to my apartment. What does one do at Court? Well, the evenings in which we have Grand cercle… we tend to sit around for about an hour before moving to the gaming room… When we have Petit cercle …, only those of us attached to the Court are invited. The evening usually begins with a session of baby-watching: we crowd around ten-month-old Joséphine, Princess of Bologna, as she plays in her pen. Very interesting… Then we move on to our usual card games… The princess chats with us familiarly when the playing is over and then retires, and so do I. This is what my life is like on Sundays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays from seven in the evening until about midnight.”‘ (205-6)

Lucia was a Lady-in-Waiting at the Milanese court of the young Vicereine Princess Augusta-Amelia, wife of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais.

And what lover of Mozart wouldn’t crow when this passage is read out:

Lucia ‘hired a kind, well-manner Austrian music teacher [for Alvisetto] who turned out to be Carl Thomas Mozart, the eldest son of Wolfgang Amadeus. … His dream, he told Lucia, was to start a piano business, but he had not been able to raise the necessary capital. He has gone back to studying music and for the past four years had made a living by giving piano lessons in Milan. “Of course he’s not his father,” Lucia told Paolina rather cruelly. “But he’s very sweet, plays well enough, and he teaches in German, so Alvisetto can practise the language.”‘ (210)

And who can resisted the gorgeous portrait that graces the cover by the famed painter Angelika Kauffmann. Angelica Goodden wrote a nice biography of Kauffmann (also spelled Kauffman).

Will comment more fully later (probably in the Jane Austen in Vermont blog, as much of Lucia’s experiences happened during the time that Austen was alive), but highly recommend this book already!

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