Summer and fair weather is time for travels, near and far. Jane Austen’s characters see their fair share of travels, whether to Hunsford, Bath, Highbury, Derbyshire, London, or sailing the high seas. What new expeditions have we authors in store for our favorite characters? Check in often through August to find out. Today, we’re visiting Venice with Shannon Winslow!
This travel theme got me thinking again about the incredible trip my husband and I took to Venice, several years ago now. My husband was sent there on Boeing business, but for me it was strictly vacation – 9 days with nothing to do but explore a city that’s like no other place on earth: from world-class art museums, to pokey little alleys, gilded palazzi, incredible cathedrals, and of course, canals everywhere – grand and otherwise. Venice made an enormous impression on me, partly, I think, because I was there long enough to feel like I really got to know the city.
You might be surprised to learn that there’s a Jane Austen connection to Venice too. The city is mentioned in Emma, in reference to looking at some pictures during the excursion to Donwell to eat strawberries:
Jane had not been gone a quarter of an hour, and they had only accomplished some views of St. Mark’s Place, Venice, when Frank Churchill entered the room. (Emma, chapter 42)
Inspired by what was then our recent trip, I managed to work a reference to Venice into the book I was writing at the time (For Myself Alone). The heroine’s brother Tom, who has a special interest in architecture, takes the grand tour on the continent, and sends a letter home with his impressions of Venice:
“It is a place of rare enchantment, quite apart from the everyday world. It is not only the famous canals that distinguish Venice, but the unique style of the buildings. Here one can clearly discern the blended influences of eastern and western cultures. This place is an architect’s paradise. My sketch book is filling rapidly; at every turn, I find a prospect worth preserving on paper.”
So Tom Walker, a character of my own invention, got the chance to go to Venice, thanks to me. And then I used Venice a second time, in my re-imagining of Jane Austen’s own life: The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Here’s an excerpt from the Prologue:
La Comtesse de la Fontaine basked in the sun’s afternoon rays with eyes closed, listening to the varied music of daily life and commerce afloat on the Grand Canal twenty feet below. Venice, for all its antiquity, remained as novel to her as the day she arrived months before, following her marriage to the count.
“There you are, my darling,” said her husband, pushing aside the heavy drapery to join her on the iron-railed balcony.
She reached out to invite him closer, but he was already at her side. A now-familiar thrill raced through her as he bent to brush her lips with his kiss. Then, their faces only inches apart, they exchanged a knowing look, a flicker of a smile passing from one to the other…
When I wrote this, I was thinking of this beautiful balcony overlooking the Grand Canal. I like this picture so much that I use it as the banner image across the top of my website/blog: shannonwinslow.com
You’re probably wondering what the above scene could possibly have to do with Jane Austen’s life. But that would be a spoiler, so I can’t tell you! Let’s just say it’s part of my gift back to Jane in return for all the pleasure her books have given me.
So, have you been to Venice? If not, I hope you’ll get the chance one day. It truly is a magical place, and the afterglow of that trip has stayed with me ever since. Maybe if I traveled more, I wouldn’t have been so effected by it. But, as Anne Elliot tells Captain Wentworth…
“So much novelty and beauty! I have travelled so little, that every fresh place would be interesting to me; but there is real beauty at [Venice]; and… altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable.”