Early Life

(17th- and 18th-Century Biographies)
0111206517-Casanova.jpg Casanova (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Jean-Jacques, chevalier de Seingalt, whose other name, Casanova, would become synonymous with the bon vivant and sexually proficient man, was a sickly child who was considered mentally deficient by his parents. He suffered from debilitating nosebleeds and was so unresponsive that he did not speak until he was eight years old. His parents made no secret of their wish that he would die.

Casanova was born in Venice, Italy, the eldest son of a Venetian actor of Spanish descent and Zanetta, the leading lady in the Comici Italian troupe of comic actors. His father died when Casanova was very young, and soon after, Zanetta abandoned the young Casanova, his three brothers, and two sisters, leaving them with strangers while she toured Verona, St. Petersburg, and Dresden. After she left, she seldom saw the children, and little is known of Casanova’s siblings.

After the death of his father and in his mother’s absence, Casanova began to flourish academically and was sent to boarding school at Padua, where he studied law, although he wished to become a doctor. In his memoirs, he proudly claims that while at school, he experienced his first sexual encounter at age eleven and found his second love, the gaming tables. He soon lost his money, began gambling on credit, and wrote his grandmother for additional funds. Instead of sending the money, Casanova’s grandmother whisked him home to Venice and placed him in an abbey school in the hope that the...

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Casanova Life’s Work

(17th- and 18th-Century Biographies)

During his years at Bragadin’s home, Casanova’s main source of revenue was gambling, naturally with the senator’s money. He reveled in his new social position, charmed the haut monde of the region, and dazzled all he met with his rugged good looks and the high energy that seemed to radiate from his person. He was tall, unusually strong, and dark complected. His face bore several smallpox scars, and he had a high forehead, a long nose, a soft chin, large eyes, and full lips. He was a born orator, a good listener, and generous to a fault, particularly if the source of the generosity was not his own funds.

Although he was obviously educated, Casanova used his knowledge for nothing more than to sparkle in conversation in the attempt to impress the wealthy and well connected now drawn to his circle. His energy was without bounds but undirected; he was intelligent but lacked the power of concentration. Within this new social sphere, his hedonism and narcissism flourished, and although he entertained everyone he met with his wit and carpe diem philosophy, he also exploited them. In the fluid social milieu of eighteenth century Europe, knowledge was a ticket to fame and fortune, and Casanova had a demonstrable talent for always being in the right place at the right time and with the proper witticisms.

Casanova’s actions caught the attention of the police, who noted that the young man’s libertine excesses had nearly ruined Senator Bragadin. Under the noted rogue’s tutelage, the senator had acquired an interest in magic and the occult. In addition, Casanova had penned satirical and, by some accounts, atheistic poetry and was well-known for his gambling...

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Casanova Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Casanova, Giacomo. The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt. Translated by Arthur Machen. 12 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1959-1961. Claims to be the first complete and unabridged translation of the work that employs new scholarship.

Craig, Cynthia C. “‘A Comedy in Three Acts’: Autobiography as Theater in Casanova’s Texts.” NEMLA Italian Studies 15 (1991). Discusses Casanova’s authorial stance.

Dobree, Bonamy. Three Eighteenth Century Figures: Sarah Churchill, John Wesley, Giacomo Casanova. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1962. A rather fond rendering of the life of the man, including an overview of his encounters, travels, and lifestyle.

Flem, Lydia. Casanova: The Man Who Really Loved Women. Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997. A psychoanalytical biography that suggests Casanova was not a heartless serial seducer but valued women as intellectual equals.

Masters, John. Casanova. New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1969. A detailed and enjoyable biography drawing heavily on Casanova’s memoirs, without extensive analysis.

Nettl, Paul. The Other Casanova: A Contribution to Eighteenth Century Music and Manners. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950. Places the man within the cultural milieu of his era by discussing the music and other arts that he encountered and critiqued.

Parker, Derek. Casanova. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2002. A thorough biography.

Symons, Arthur. “Casanova at Dux.” In The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, Venetian Years. Vol 1. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1959. The preface to this edition of the memoirs is worthy of note as an independent source because it examines in detail the omission of the bawdy sections in the French translation and the process by which the materials were rediscovered and reincorporated.

Zweig, Stefan. Casanova: A Study in Self-Portraiture. Translated by Eden Paul. London: Pushkin, 1998. A biography that relates Casanova’s self-created myth to the nature of the city of Venice itself.