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Research for being a wealthy young lady in 1920's Venice?
April 21, 2014 12:20 PM   Subscribe

So I'm joining a Call of Cthulhu game, and my character, assigned by the GM, is that of a young lady (age 20), who is from one of the wealthy families of Venice, in the 1920's. She is educated and capable but nothing was expected of her except to marry well and produce children. But the sudden death of her father has thrown her life into turmoil. Are there any good books or movies I can watch that feature this type of woman in this time and place?

There are questions I have, that the GM has said "you can decide that, because it doesn't matter for the story"-- but it does matter to me, to help figure out who this woman is, where she's come from, what kind of things she can do, and how she'll respond when tentacled horrors start coming out of the walls. So I want to decide, like, "how did her family make their money?" (because being the child of a financier is going to be different than being the child of an art smuggler or a vintner) Where did she go to school? Where did she travel? Can she ride a horse? Drive a car? Shoot a shotgun? I assume she's Catholic, but how devout? What kinds of experiences might she have had, and what is her day-to-day life like?

A good book on just general life for the wealthy in 1920's Venice would be fine, but a story would also be welcome; bonus points if it's actually an enjoyable book or film!
posted by The otter lady to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thomas Mann's Death in Venice
posted by colin_l at 12:26 PM on April 21


This seems like the sort of thing you could glean by reading one of the many expat-in-Venice themed novels of that period. Parts of Brideshead Revisited come to mind, and also maybe Henry James, though it's a little before the 20s.

I also feel like you might be able to crib somewhat from things like Downton Abbey, though it's obviously the wrong country and some of the social/cultural mores will be different.

What about The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis? It takes place a little after your period, I think, but would be helpful for social stuff within prominent northern Italian families and early 20th century Italy in general.

The film Sonnenschein comes to mind, though it takes place in Budapest around your period, as does Cries And Whispers (turn of the century Sweden).
posted by Sara C. at 12:29 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


It also might be worth looking at a character like Sally Bowles from Cabaret. She's an American, and the film/musical/story collection takes place in Germany, but she's not a bad inspiration for "early 20th century woman responds to family and social upheaval in unusual ways".
posted by Sara C. at 12:30 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Not about Venice, but Out of Africa:
...is based loosely on the autobiographical book Out of Africa written by Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym of Danish author Karen Blixen)...
I used to play (and GM) Call of Cthulhu. I don't really think you need to be too persnickety about "It must be information from VENICE." I think a general feel for a European woman of that era would be sufficient for gaming purposes and I really liked the above movie for glimpses into life from that general era for a woman from an upper class family.
posted by Michele in California at 12:35 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


There are some parts of Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time Of Gifts where he runs into wealthy European girls from prominent families and gets into different types of trouble with them, which might also be inspirational. Italy doesn't show up in the book at all (and I think it takes place in the early 30s, because Hitler is already rising to power), IIRC, but again you get a picture of what everyday life would be like for wealthy early 20th century women.

One thing to consider would be how hidebound her upbringing really would have been and whether she truly would have been raised just to get married and have babies. That's pretty deeply against type for almost any young woman depicted in the fiction of the period. Obviously there were lots of ordinary traditional-minded women who didn't want to be modern or rebellious or exciting, but you'll find a lot more examples of daring and forward-thinking women in your various literary sources.
posted by Sara C. at 12:35 PM on April 21


I think you're just going to have to make several arbitrary decisions:
1. Her education: much will depend on what her father was like.... If he was a hidebound conservative who sent her to convent schools to learn not much more than fine embroidery and piety, or if he was the sort who felt daughters too should get good solid educations that might've even included university.
2. WHEN did her father die: when she was very young and had to have a guardian, or when she was old enough to take charge of both her life and her inheritance?
3. Did her father leave her in command of that inheritance, or is it tied down with trustees?
4. If she's been a lifelong resident of Venice, she probably CAN'T drive; if she spent years elsewhere, it's a tossup. If she's a liberated flapper type, then probably yes; if she's a sheltered conservative (like from that convent school), then probably not.
posted by easily confused at 12:49 PM on April 21


For wealthy/socially prominent Venetian families, you might want to read up on the various Italian mainland villages where the Palladian Villas are likely to be located. Wealthy Venetian families liked to be to the manor born just as much as their counterparts in other important parts of Europe. Wealthy families had a villa around Vicenza and a palazzo in "town". So it's entirely possible that your character would have learned to drive and ride and wouldn't have been cloistered by city life unless she wanted to be or was raised to be.
posted by Sara C. at 12:55 PM on April 21


Can she ride a horse? Drive a car? Shoot a shotgun?

Keep in mind that when it comes to Call of Cthulhu, you generally have to spend from a limited bank of points to get skills like these*. If the GM is providing you with the character already completed, you might not get to determine these attributes because s/he wants you to be the "researcher" or the "financier" or somesuch.

But if you've been given some leeway in terms of those points, you'll want to remember that you're going to be a character in a horror role playing game so it will be to your advantage to be able to swim, shoot, drive (etc) if you don't want to drown, be eaten, be unable to get away from cultists (etc). It's fun to play a character with some limitations but it's better to not be cultist fodder!

* Apologies if you are already an experienced player and are well aware of this stuff.
posted by bcwinters at 1:04 PM on April 21


Check the work of Dino Segre.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:12 PM on April 21


Consider Peggy Guggenheim, perhaps.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:37 PM on April 21


One thing that jumps out at me reading Sticherbeast's link is that you might want to start by figuring out the following:

1. What year is it right now? The 20s is pretty broad. Is it 1928 or 1921?

2. Where was my character during WW1 and what was her situation? Someone who is 20 in 1922 would have experienced a lot of formative years during the first World War and in its direct aftermath (and would probably remember the cultural milieu from before the war). Someone who is 20 in 1929 will have had a fairly different experience of life, and especially a different outlook on social issues.

You might also want to think about what exactly her family's social standing was and what their overall identity/background is. Are they an old Venetian family, or more recently wealthy? Catholic? Jewish? Modern in outlook or bound to old traditions? Rich in Northern Italy in the 1920s could describe anyone from old Patrician families to the founders of Fiat.
posted by Sara C. at 3:18 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


That sounds very similar to Anne in Agatha Christie's "The Man in the Brown Suit". She is from England, though, but very much expected only to be married off and instead finds adventure for herself.
posted by jillithd at 7:10 AM on April 22


All great answers and lots of great reading for me! Thanks! Ia ia! :)
posted by The otter lady at 12:36 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


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