52. Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, by Gene Brucker
In 1455, in Florence, Lusanna di Benedetto, a widow of the artisanal class, brought suit against the noble, Giovanni della Casa, attempting to prove that he had secretly married her, and that, therefore, his publicly celebrated marriage to another was bigamous.
Professor Brucker has taken the simple records of this lawsuit and has used them as the framework for a short, but information-packed, account of Florentine society in the 14th-century. This story of a woman who challenged class and hierarchy in order to protect her reputation and prove the legitimacy of her marriage has a great deal to teach us about the legal process of the time, the interplay and tension between civil and church authority, the relationship between social classes, gender norms, and, of course, marriage laws and customs. This book shows Brucker as not only a scholar, but a story-teller, one who can turn the dry papers of the law courts into a fascinating human narrative. In particular, he brings Lusanna and Giovanni to life. We can almost feel what they felt, and understand how their upbringing, social positions and expectations brought them, first, together, and then into conflict. I was, frankly, surprised to find how much I had learned from a book of slightly over 100 pages!
As one who believes that one of the great disadvantages of closed stacks and internet search engines is the minimized opportunity for digression and serendipitous finds, I was delighted to read that this book was the result of Professor Brucker's fascination with a story that he came across while doing research into another matter at the Florentine State Archives. Indeed, he temporarily abandoned that research to concentrate on this story. A man after my own heart!