This week I received an amazing thing in the mail: a copy of the letters of Giustiniana Wynne, Countess Rosenberg, who is one of the women I am writing about for my next book.
Giustiniana (1737-1791) was a bright, brilliant, lovely young woman who had half the men in Venice turning their heads in her direction. She had a torrid affair with Andrea Memmo, a nobleman of the highest strata who could never marry her since she was not of the same class. Andrea di Robilant wrote the story of this relationship in the book A Venetian Affair, which contains many of G’s letters as well as Andrea’s. Here is Andrea alongside the book.
I met him this summer for coffee at the Piazzetta in Venice (though I didn’t take any photos that day). For a while now, since I worked on Seductive Venice, I’ve used Andrea’s writings, and he has graciously answered my questions about Giustiniana. I first wrote about her because of her relationship with Casanova. He fell for her when they first met, but he didn’t pursue her since he was friends with Andrea Memmo. Casanova later met Giustiniana again in Paris, where they socialized and danced at a masked ball–and then, at her request, he helped her find a solution for an unwanted pregnancy.
I subsequently learned that Giustiniana was so much more than a pretty face that caught Casanova’s attention. She was an accomplished author who wrote what some consider the first novel in Italian. I won’t go into detail here (because I want you to buy my book when it comes out and read all about her then!), but Giustiniana came into her own power later in life and left a legacy in her written work.
In the course of my research, I read the diaries of Giustiniana’s niece, Elizabeth (Betsy) Freemantle. Betsy began keeping a diary when she was a child–a diary bought for her by Count Bartolomeo Benincasa, Giustiniana’s companion after she was widowed. Betsy recounts how Benincasa would play cards with Betsy and her sister, or dance a minuet with them, or how he delivered the news of Giustiniana’s final illness. Betsy once wrote, “Mons. Benincasa dressed up as a woman, and my aunt (Giustiniana) as a man. I came downstairs without recognizing them…. But at last Mons. Benincasa made such an absurd curtsey that I knew him and my aunt also from her voice” (The Wynne Diaries, page 2).
I include all these details about Benincasa because HIS HANDWRITING IS IN THE BOOK I JUST RECEiVED!
Well, sort of. The book of Giustiniana’s letters is actually a copy that was owned by J. Rives Childs, one of the foremost Casanova scholars from the past, so I’m looking at a copy of Benincasa’s handwritten notes next to Giustiniana’s letters. This very book was sent to me by Marco Leeflang, one of our foremost living Casanova scholars.
Here is a picture of Marco (the man in the middle left) from when I met him in Paris a couple years ago when I went to see the Casanova exhibit:
Marco is truly generous with his gifts. There are few copies of this book, and now I am one of the lucky owners. Marco wrote to me that I “deserve a bonus” for including Giustiniana in my book on Venetian women. I only hope I do her justice.
Here is the title page of her book of letters:
And here is the cardboard box that Marco made to store the book in. He used handmade Venetian paper. He wrote to me that since the box is becoming “sloppy and torn” I may throw it away. Why would I ever consider such a sacrilege? Just look at this cool paper?
One of the other world’s experts on Giustiniana’s life is Nancy Isenberg, a professor at the University of Rome III, who has also generously helped me in my research. She has written numerous works on Giustiniana. I wonder if she has seen this copy of G’s letters?