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)
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!
Yesterday, Sunday the 14th of September, our Vermont Chapter of JASNA — the Jane Austen Society of North America — held a lecture in Montpelier by renowned speaker John Turner. You can read his delightful talk here. His comments on Austen’s novels, life and letters are thought-provoking.
The topic of the lecture was AUSTEN’s ENGLAND, and Deb Barnum, our chapter’s Regional co-Coordinator, showed some of her slides, one of which depicted the West front of Wells Cathedral. It was obvious that Deb was quite enamored with this beautiful building, for she pondered, “I included this, but I’ve no idea if Austen ever visited”.
It is more than probable that Jane Austen and her family did visit, especially during the years that they resided in Bath, for Wells is some twenty miles south-west of Bath – and, as a busman’s holiday, surely the Rev. George Austen would have made a special excursion to the Cathedral at least once in his life!
However, without specific evidence, we can only guess. Cyber-visitors, on the other hand, can see a lot of the Cathedral by visiting their informative website.
But Wells Cathedral does have an ‘Austen’ connection that is more tangible and well documented: through Emma Austen-Leigh.
Emma’s parents, Augusta and Charles Smith, were married by the Rev. Richard Beadon – at the time of their marriage, 29 March 1798, the Bishop of Gloucester (since 1789). Rev. Beadon was translated to the bishopric of Wells and Bath in 1802, and Emma’s diaries, which begin in 1815, show a decided preference for family trips to Wells – to visit the Beadons, and to sketch the famous Cathedral:
Here is Emma in November 1815.
Wednesday 15 … We [Mama, Augusta, Emma] arrive at Wells at 4 oclock
Thursday 16 We drew out of doors
Friday 17 We walked to the Cathedral & went inside it. Mrs Walrond & her 2 sons were at Wells
Saturday 18 The Bishop confirmed the 2 Mr Walronds & me . Mr T. Beadon was present. … Mr Turner Mrs & the 2 Mr Walronds dined there. We were in the evening a party of 22.
Sunday 19 We went to the cathedral morning service then to hear the school children examined & to evening service…
Monday 20 …Mrs T. Beadon called at the palace Augusta & I walked with the Bishop up the Tor. Mr & Mrs T. Beadon & the abbé dined there
Tuesday 21 …Mrs Beadon & Mama joined us to go to an auction to the deanery then to call at Mrs T. Beadon’s house. Augusta & I went over the cathedral
On the 22nd, the Smiths leave.
Note the 15 November: Emma was confirmed, by the bishop, here at Wells Cathedral.
The Smiths would remain fast friends with several generations of Beadons, for years to come.