Evelina van Millingen Pisani was a modern woman in the age of Queen Victoria. She was born in Constantinople in 1831 to an eccentric French mother and an English father, who was a doctor accused of having murdered Lord Byron. Educated in Papal Rome until the age of eighteen, she was whisked back to Constantinople by her father, now working for the sultan. While visiting Venice, this striking beauty of twenty-two met and married the wealthy Count Pisani. Evelina became an exotic star in the firmament of wealthy American and English socialites, artists, and writers, for whom the artistic decadence of Venice was an antidote to the factories, materialism, and homophobic laws they saw at home. In her circle of friends were Isabella Stewart Gardner and an admiring Henry James. When her husband died after twenty-seven years of marriage, the grieving countess unexpectedly found herself saddled with his mortgage debts. Inheriting the vast but rundown Pisani estate in the misty flatlands near Padua, Evelina took full charge. Becoming a hands-on farmer, she restored swampland, built an English garden, and created a model farm for hundreds of tenant farmers. Through it all, she remained a pillar in the admiring Venetian set.
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The surprising and hitherto untold story of Evelina's long life is a compelling drama that begins in the era of Lord Byron.
Evelina: A Victorian Heroine in Venice, read review
Judith Harris has resurrected a memorable lady. It is the first biography of an exceptionally versatile, attractive, strong woman with an exotic background, and is at the same time the tale of other fascinating people in a fascinating epoch.