Does your bookclub need some ideas for your next reading endeavor? Consider A Beautiful Woman in Venice, my collection of biographies about Venetian women.
Dip into 28 chapters on over 35 Venetian women spanning six centuries. From poets Veronica Franco and Gaspara Stampa, to orators like Cassandra Fedele, regatta winner Maria Boscola, and dogaressa Maria Morosini Grimani, you’ll read a wide variety of stories about their remarkable lives. Women often changed history or saved lives, like Giustina Rossi who helped quell a rebellion to Giovanna whose painting kept the Black Death at bay, plus a myriad of nuns and laywomen who founded institutions to care for orphans, widows, and the destitute.
A whole host of writers are represented here: from Arcangela Tarabotti, Modesta Pozzo, and Lucrezia Marinella, some of the earliest proto-feminists anywhere, to Elisabetta Caminer Turra, Luisa Bergalli Gozzi, Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi, Giustina Renier Michiel, and Giustiniana Wynne, who broke boundaries for women authors and paved the way for more to come. Besides authors were composers Barbara Strozzi and Antonia Bembo. Venice has recognized some of its talented daughters, such as Rosalba Carriera, the pastellist, and Cencia Scarpariola, the lace maker, with plaques and streets, and of course the city has honored Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman in the world to earn a university degree.
A Beautiful Woman in Venice honors more than just those mentioned here. Read the book to discover which woman hid steaming polenta in her bosom, who had an affair with Casanova, who painted the Barovier wedding cup, who is depicted in Titian’s famous Venus of Urbino, and who had 37 violin concertos written for her by Antonio Vivaldi.
I offer these questions as a starting place for your book club. You can order copies of the book through my website at seductivevenice.com.
- Which woman do you admire the most? With which woman do you identify most closely? Which is most like you in her goals, experiences, or aspirations?
- What emotions did you feel as you read each story?
- How would you classify this book: biography, history, travel, feminist literature…? Why is this definition important–or not?
- How is each woman beautiful? Did you find yourself redefining beauty? After finishing the book, how do you define beauty now?
- Why is the title “A Beautiful Woman” singular rather than plural?
- Venetian women generally had two choices: maritar o monacar–plus the unspoken third option of being a sex worker. Discuss these options in light of Venetian society in different centuries, and compare this to women’s roles now. What would you do if given these choices?
- Although many cities had strong traditions surrounding marriage and dowries, Venice’s practices seemed particularly intense and distinct. Are there any positive consequences for women who are pressured into marriage or the convent? Did you read about women who were happy with these choices?
- Who were some of the strong men in these women’s lives? How did they support and champion women?
- Why do you think men oppressed women in so many ways? Based on some of these Venetian women’s writings, why do they think men oppressed women?
- How did some of these women overcome the roles assigned to them? What were the benefits and costs?
- Think about the women’s lives that are represented here. Why do writers’ lives outnumber others? And why do we know more about the nobility than the working class? What are the consequences of these effects on a society and history?
- This book spans almost six centuries yet contains the stories of roughly 35 women. Why so few? What does this tell us about history?
- Were there any quotations by these Venetian women that stuck with you? Why did those stand out and what did they mean for you?
- Has this book changed your thinking in any way?
- How does the setting figure into the book? What did you learn about Venice?