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Authors: Andrea Di Robilant

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BOOK: Lucia
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As he vigorously chased his youth, Memmo, who was nearing sixty, also kept his eye on the doge’s rapidly declining health. The idea of crowning his political career with the ducal cap flattered his vanity. “I am complimented at all times as [the doge’s] much desired successor,” he noted proudly.
In Lucia’s new world, however, Alvise was now the ultimate authority; and his stature, both within the Mocenigo family and outside, was growing fast. Sebastiano, his father, was still the head of the family. But he was an old man in poor health, with an unsavoury past. Alvise, on the other hand, was gaining confidence and respect among his peers. He was elected Savio di Terraferma, a political office with supervisory responsibilities on the mainland. It was a prestigious appointment for a young patrician who wanted to pursue a career in government. Alvise was also earning a reputation as an able administrator with a keen interest in the development of modern agriculture. And as the only male heir of the Mocenigo dynasty, he was already looked upon as the de facto representative of the family interests within the Venetian oligarchy.

The pressure on Lucia to ensure the future glory of the Mocenigos by producing a healthy baby boy started immediately. Chiara, Lucia’s mother-in-law, lived in her own apartment in Palazzo Mocenigo, and often dropped by to keep her daughter-in-law company, staying on for a cup of chocolate or a lunch
à deux.
On such occasions, it was never very long before she turned to her favourite subject. Indeed it sometimes seemed it was her
topic of interest. Lucia wondered whether Chiara had been made to feel the same pressure from the Mocenigos when she was a young spouse. The survival of the dynasty had depended on her as well, and she had acquitted herself by giving birth to Alvise. Even though she had had a stressful life with her husband, suffering in silence as he humiliated her and made a fool of himself in the main courts of Europe, she had never lost her deep sense of loyalty to the family she had married into. Over and over, during her visits and in her notes and letters, she impressed upon Lucia the urgency of giving Alvise a son.

Alvise too was evidently keeping up the pressure: a month after the wedding, Lucia, barely seventeen, was already pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy from the start and she was unwell for most of the first three months. The physical discomfort was made even worse by all the fuss her new relatives created around her. She missed her intimate conversations with Paolina. Most of all, she missed the comforting company of her mother, whose fading memory she now cherished even more lovingly than in the past.

The pain became more severe as the summer advanced, and by early August Lucia had her first miscarriage. Memmo, feeling his daughter’s pain but well aware of the unpleasant suggestions that came with an aborted pregnancy, remarked with sadness that the loss of the child was the only blemish on an otherwise exemplary marriage.

When the family pressure on Lucia resumed in the autumn, she was in many ways a changed woman, as if the miscarriage had put her life into sharper focus. Her letters to Alvise show that she had shed much of her shyness, and gained a greater sense of purpose and resolve. She was going to work even harder at loving her husband and giving him a son. True, she still spent most of her time with her maid, Maria, giving half-hearted instructions to the staff and waiting for her increasingly busy husband to come home. But now she ventured out to the theatre and visited childhood friends from before her Roman years. She also became more demanding and more passionate in her love notes to Alvise. “A dangerous wind has been blowing for the past half hour and I hope this means you have decided not to travel [to the mainland],” she wrote to her husband at the Senate. “My dearest Alvise, give me this great token of your love: arrange matters in such a way that I shall see you at the theatre tonight and I assure you that you will make my happiness.” How exasperating it was, she wrote to him another day, that Alvise was conducting business “in this very same
” and yet “we cannot see each other and kiss.” And yet another time: “Oh please wrap up your endless talks and come rejoice in the presence of the one who loves you with all her soul.” To her delight, she noticed her sweet calls were often effective: Alvise would steal away from his endless chores and duties, suddenly appearing at the
and Lucia would have her treasured moment of triumph. There was a new playfulness between them, as when, shortly after an amorous encounter, she sent an envelope to Alvise containing a square piece of paper no bigger than a stamp on which she had scrawled in tiny writing and in French—the language of love and mischief:

Aimez-vous Lucille?

Elle vous adore

By the end of the winter of 1788, less than a year after the wedding, Lucia was pregnant again. Her mother-in-law started to hover while the family circle tightened around her. This time Lucia felt more in control of herself, and happy, although her happiness was tempered by the experience she had had only a few months before. She took the greatest care to carry out as best she could what she now accepted as her highest duty: “My beloved husband, rest assured that I am taking every precaution I can to make our happiness even more perfect, and I move about as little as possible.”

By late spring, the crucial first three months had passed with no sign of danger, and Lucia, having obtained a green light from the family obstetrician, felt confident enough to travel out to Dolo, a lovely village on the river Brenta where the Mocenigos and other patrician families had summer houses. Lucia spent her days quietly, getting herself acquainted with the house. Le Scalette was a Renaissance villa, long and narrow, situated on the bank of the river and separated from the clear, slow-moving water by a pathway that led directly to the village half a mile away. In the back of the house was a formal garden with box hedges and potted lemons and decorative statues. Beyond it, fields of wheat and maize extended inland as far as the eye could see. Lucia had the house cleaned and scrubbed from top to bottom, she brought paintings from Venice with which to redecorate the bedrooms, she stocked up the kitchen with supplies of coffee, sugar and flour and had Alvise send more silverware. To better enjoy the cool, she had the dining table moved out to the loggia, which overlooked the Brenta on one side and the garden on the other.

Once the house was in order, she rested and nursed her growing belly. She embroidered shirts for Alvise, played cards, took slow walks to Dolo, stopping at the busy coffee house where other holidaymakers gathered for a little gossip. She paid visits to her neighbours and made a point of cultivating Mocenigo friends and relatives who lived close by. Her mother-in-law frequently came to see her from nearby Padua, bringing baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables. Lucia sometimes asked her father, who was also in Padua for the summer, to come over for lunch so he and Chiara could entertain themselves by talking about old times while she played lady of the house. “I want to describe to you the meal I gave your mother and my papa today,” she wrote proudly to Alvise, listing the items on the menu, which included “rice with quails, red meat, cutlets with sauce, mushrooms in casserole, fresh vegetables, salami, salad…”

Alvise came and went. In the course of the summer he visited the Mocenigo estates, checking on the crops, going through the accounts, settling disputes among the farmers. But he was also busy with his new duties as Savio di Terraferma: touring government houses, hospitals and technical schools where he gave speeches, spoke to the teachers, encouraged the students and gave out prizes. On occasion he travelled to Verona, where his father, to everyone’s surprise, had been appointed governor—his first assignment after the long period of confinement in Brescia. Sebastiano had worked hard behind the scenes to be readmitted into active political duty. “We will see his resurrection after all,”
Memmo noted wryly, not realising he would soon regret that very “resurrection.”

Sebastiano’s acrimony towards Alvise softened, at least for a while, and Lucia was “very disappointed” not to be able to travel to Verona to take advantage of this rare “moment of peace between my dear husband and his father.” She longed to be with Alvise but she did not want to weigh on him. “Tonight I will savour the only good thing I have left: to dream of you and think of you all the time…Adieu my dearest one. I want to give you a kiss even as I write you this letter. So here it is, where I mark this dot • Adieu my love.”


lvise’s complicated relationship with Sebastiano reminded Lucia how fortunate she was that her husband and her father got along so well. Memmo had a soft spot for Alvise and he supported his budding political career. He had watched him grow increasingly alienated from the obtuse conservatism of his own family. In spite of his brooding, introverted personality, Alvise was fast becoming something of a rallying figure in the reformist camp, and Memmo felt that if the Republic was ever to revive its fortunes it would be thanks to progressive young men like his son-in-law. In turn, Alvise saw Memmo—one of the few survivors of a band of reformers who had come of age during the heyday of the Enlightenment—as his political mentor. He sought his advice and cultivated his friendship. And of course it warmed Lucia’s heart to see the relationship between them blossom. “However, to make me completely happy,” she warned her husband, “you must assure me that all of this is not on my account but rather because you truly wish to consider him both a friend and a father.”

In the same way, she hoped Alvise would be a friend and a father “to our own dear son, who is still so tiny and yet, with his little movements inside me, bids me to tell you that he hugs you very hard.”
Those eager “little movements” continued through August then gradually ceased. Alvise rushed back to Le Scalette as soon as he received news that his wife was again in pain. By the time he arrived the sadness in Lucia’s stunned gaze confirmed his worst fears. Memmo arrived from Padua to be with his daughter. “My good girl has had a second miscarriage,” he wrote with a heavy heart. “She is recovering after the usual pains.”

Lucia’s recovery was in fact much slower than her father had anticipated. Two miscarriages in a year had taken their toll on her, undermining her self-confidence and throwing her into a period of depression. Memmo suggested Alvise take Lucia on a long trip: it was sure to distract his daughter and could turn into a useful educational experience for his son-in-law. As soon as Lucia was well enough to travel, they left for Tuscany, staying first at the Bagni di Lucca for a restorative water cure, then moving on to Pisa, Livorno and Florence, where Alvise was able to have a first-hand look at the economic progress achieved under Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, younger brother of Emperor Joseph II of Austria. As he followed their journey from a distance, Memmo remarked proudly that his son-in-law “could not be a better husband to his wife, whom he adores and who loves him back.”

Alvise wanted to continue the trip as far as Rome and possibly even Naples. He was keen to visit San Leucio, the model community King Ferdinand IV—who had thrown confetti at Lucia and Paolina in Naples—had built around a flourishing silk factory near the slopes of Vesuvius. However, the trip had to be cut short. The political scene in Venice was in turmoil. Worst of all, tensions between the Mocenigos and the Memmos had suddenly flared.

While Alvise and Lucia were still in Tuscany, the health of Paolo Renier, a corrupt and unpopular doge, rapidly deteriorated. Aspiring candidates for the ducal throne began to campaign behind the scenes, including Memmo, who prowled around the Senate with the assurance of an old cat. “People say the Doge will soon be dead and that I will be elected to replace him,” he boasted, adding he would run only if he were spared the need to spend “the usual grandiose sums of money, which I do not have.”
He wanted to run as the candidate of a reformist coalition. But if the election became a costly contest in which the candidate with the most money had the best chances, he would withdraw.

From the beginning, the campaign took a promising turn for Memmo. There was a fairly widespread perception among the more enlightened Venetians that the Republic had reached a critical point in its drawn-out decline, and that the coming election was going to be of great importance—a last chance, as it were, to set the stage for those elusive yet long due reforms that might reverse the downward spiral. The sprawling bureaucracy had to be streamlined. The powerful, over-privileged guilds that were stifling trade had to be confronted. On the mainland, the modernisation of agriculture, the one development that showed real promise, had to be encouraged and accelerated. And it was also urgent to lift Venice’s overseas dominions from their wretched backwardness—the province of Dalmatia, on the opposite shore of the Adriatic Sea, was so poor it had become an embarrassment for the Republic.
But nothing would change if the oligarchy itself did not change by opening itself up to families of more recent wealth which rightly clamoured for representation. Memmo, a true child of the Enlightenment who had devoted his public life to the improvement of government, was keenly aware of what needed to be done. The like-minded patricians who saw him as the best hope to rejuvenate the sclerotic Venetian State, stepped out of the shadows of inertia to rally around him. They were a larger number than expected, and the conservative camp was taken by surprise. “We’ll see a Memmo elected doge after all!” the candidate chirped.
Then a challenge arose from a completely unexpected quarter.

Sebastiano Mocenigo, galvanised by his political “resurrection” in Verona, brazenly decided to play for the highest stakes. He knew he had but a few years to live and this was the last chance he would ever have to be elected doge. On the face of it, it looked like an impossible challenge, but this quirky, contorted man had often deluded himself in the past. If Memmo intended to run without spending a ducat, Sebastiano, on the other hand, intended to plunder the Mocenigo fortune now at his disposal, in order to win the contest. He moved back to Venice and began to plot his campaign from a
he had in a back street behind Saint Mark’s Square, with the help of a few fellow conservatives who thought a rich Mocenigo could well block the rise of Memmo. Memmo himself was completely taken aback by Sebastiano’s challenge. He recoiled at the idea of running against a man “in whose house I have a daughter,” and hoped the strong opposition to Sebastiano would force his rival to withdraw. Sebastiano’s surprise candidacy had indeed generated quick opposition, and serious worry for the disrepute he would bring to the office. Sebastiano, however, was obstinate. He knew he could count on support from the families in Verona, a city whose political importance was growing. He promised money to impoverished patricians who had lost everything but their voting rights, and spread the rumour that he intended to create a slush fund worth 30,000 ducats to spend during the campaign. Those rumours produced the intended result. As one informer told the Inquisitors, “the opposition of many patricians to Sebastiano Mocenigo is melting by the hour.”

BOOK: Lucia
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