On a Friday night, would you rather be listening to someone talk about sex or out looking for some of your own?
Well, I opted for the talk. It was actually part of the Vari Symposium at Santa Clara University, which hosted Blake de Maria and Patricia Fortini Brown on Thursday night, and Suzanne Magnanini and Guido Ruggiero on Friday night. Guido has written extensively about sex crimes–and also love–in Renaissance Venice. I read his book last year to glean background information in my own attempts to understand Casanova’s sexual mores. Unfortunately for me, Guido’s research covers a few centuries before Casanova came along, though fortunately for me, he has been kind enough to answer my emails. (That’s why I’m going for the informal Guido here.)
Guido presented a paper titled “Wayfarers in Wonderland: Love and Sex in Renaissance Venice Revisited.” In it, he explores an anonymous play titled La veniexieana about a young widow and a newlywed, both noblewomen, who vie for the attentions of the young dandy Giulio. According to Guido’s research, Giulio is a good mark because he’s still young enough to be in the gioventu category of Renaissance men–kind of passive and feminine, thus not a threat to the women who would woo him. The upper classes had these distinctions, quite unlike our modern times, and this play gives us insight into these sexual mores.
I had read Guido’s book The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice. He spent countless hours in the state archives poring through old court records at how sex crimes were tried and punished. Not surprisingly, men often got off more easily, while women were more likely to be accused of such crimes as infanticide. Fornication outside of marriage, even in cases of rape, was forgivable if the man married the woman. Guess what that led to. Sheesh. But I still don’t know if these mores held true in Casanova’s eighteenth century. I’m not ready to commit to hours searching through boxes in the state archives to read crime reports; in fact, Guido said that someone had the bright idea of alphabetizing all the court cases from that century, so nothing is chronological. I love being in Venice, but I’m not ready to be in Venice with boxes of alphabetized sex crime cases. I’ll take Casanova sites instead! Many of them serve wine.
I wondered if Casanova would have known the play La veniexiana. Could his memoirs have been influenced by this work? If this play helps to create a mythos about love and sex in Venice, is Casanova embellishing his own tales so that they fit such a pattern? He was known to be an excellent story teller. His own teenage shenanigans, such as with the Savorgnan sisters, paint him as this sort of gioventu; how much of this is truly him and how much may be his own self-made Casanova fable? I’m not sure how to prove any of this, but they’re great questions to ponder. (For the record, many biographers, such as J. Rives Child, do a great job finding the truth and the fiction in C’s memoirs, though all these centuries later, our knowledge will still be limited.)
I could go on about other topics Guido covered, and hopefully I’ll do so in another post. Or I’ll also probably touch on Magnanini’s talk. (Sadly, I couldn’t attend the first night of the Symposium.) It’s been a busy week, and I’ll blog more soon on the other big things that have happened–the very final edits for the Italian edition of Seductive Venice with maybe a sneak peek at the cover art, and last week’s author presentation (oh yeah, that was me!) at the San Jose Italian American Heritage Foundation. I’ve been too busy doing all these things to write about them.)
BTW, Dad, I know you’re scandalized by my first sentence, but I’m not depraved, really. I’m just trying to get people to keep reading! Love you!