Sunday, 17 April 2011

Oh, those Venetians!

The moment Night with dusky mantle covers
The skies (and the more duskily the better)
The Time - less liked by husbands than by lovers -
Begins, and Prudery flings aside her fetter,
And Gaiety on restless tiptoe hovers.
Giggling with all the Gallants who beset her;
And there are Songs, and quavers, roaring, humming,
Guitars, and every other sort of strumming.

Lord Byron, "Beppo" (describing the Carnevale di Venezia)

In an essay titled Homosexuality in Venice in the time of Lord Byron, Jack Gumpert Wasserman offers six reasons for the popularity of Venice with homosexual men - of which the "first, and certainly foremost was the absence of all criminal and civil laws proscribing sodomy. It is worth emphasizing again that homosexuality was still a capital offence in England."


"Tita"

One of Byron's servants was Giovanni Battista Falcieri, known as "Tita," a muscular young gondolier he had acquired in Venice. He was Byron's personal attendant and chasseur, attending his lordship in his equestrian and swimming exercises.

From Sketches of Some Distinguished Anglo-Indians By William Laurie [presumably Tita appears in this book because he eventually worked for the India Office]:
He appeared to enjoy the reminisces of their swimming excursions very much, when his lordship and he would go out at night-time, each with a light in one hand, elevated over their heads, while they swam with the other...They had swam some two or three miles when his lordship turned to "Tita" to ask him if he felt disposed to go farther, which he was quite willing to do.


Lord Byron

Venetian gondoliers were well known for selling their sexual services. Apparently Tita had sex (for "broad silver pieces") with one of Byron's guests, William Bankes, who as a young man had initiated Byron into the gay world at Cambridge.

Campness personified, he is further described by Laurie thus:
Falcieri was accustomed to speak with pride on the richness of his uniform - a cocked hat with a plume of feathers; scarlet coat, richly embroidered with gold lace; pantaloons, also similarly embroidered; Hessian boots, with tassels; sword and sash completed his equipment when out on special occasions with his lordship.
Byron apparently died holding Tita's hand...

Read more about Byron's gay affairs

In a footnote to this story, "Tita" was recommended by friends of the late Lord Byron to none other than the family of Benjamin Disraeli, latterly Prime Minister under Queen Victoria, and became a servant in his household. He even accompanied the great man on his diplomatic missions to Albania and the Adriatic.

7 comments:

  1. I should take more interest in Byron (my panda's name) since we went to the same school (in different centuries) & his mother had Mr BEB's favourite castle ruin. He just always seemed a bit of a plonker & swoony for my liking. Man up, for heaven's sake! ;-)

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  2. Judging by his choice of the strapping Mr Falcieri, one might suspect he was passive in many more ways than just sentiment... Jx

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    1. Graham Robb in "Strangers" says (alas without citing a source) that the prostituting gondoliers were always the active partner; by the customs of Venice they could do this to make extra money without sacrificing their dignity.

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    2. A tradition that carries on even to this day among the felucca pilots of the Nile, in my experience. Boys and water, eh? Jx

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  3. More amused at the lack of evidence as to who Byron was screwing at the time. There isn't actually any evidence that Byron was using him or handing him out for sexual favours.

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    1. Apart from all that carefully peer-reviewed research I have cited, of course. Jx

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