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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

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It is virtually impossible to separate Casanova the man from Casanova the literary artist, not only because the major portion of his work is autobiography, which is theoretically fact, but also because so much of Casanova’s character is fiction. Although he disliked novels, he is the prototype of the picaresque, the charming rogue who slips and slides through encounters while envisioning, at best, an improved state in life and, at the least, survival at any cost.

Whether the man created the legend or vice versa remains a matter of scholarly debate; however, the memoirs clearly enumerate the manners, the ills, and the mores of the upper classes of eighteenth century Europe. Although some critics dismiss Casanova’s memoirs as erotic or obscene, others believe the twelve volumes are great literature worthy of study and discourse.

Casanova died in 1798, but the manuscript did not appear until 1820, when Carlo Angiolini, about whom little is known, brought the handwritten bundles to Brockhaus Publishers in Leipzig. Although Angiolini presented the publishers with twelve bundles, which corresponded roughly to the original twelve volumes of the autobiography, it became apparent that sections were missing and that the work was probably incomplete because the chronology ended in 1774. Some sources contend that Casanova burned the balance of the manuscript when age forced the writing to become less than perfect.

The work was translated into German and published between 1822 and 1828 as Aus den Memoiren de Venetianers Jacob Casanova de Seingalt. Before the memoir’s publication in French, Jean Laforgue, a language professor, was hired to clean up the language, both grammatically and morally, and many of the original passages were deleted. When the French version was released, many doubted its authenticity and attributed the writing to Stendhal. Based on independent research and the restoration of the purged passages, the first “complete and unabridged English translation” was published by Elek Books, London ( The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, year unavailable) and reprinted by G. P. Putnam in New York (c. 1959).

Although many people may find the blatant sexuality of the memoirs offensive, each of the hundreds of vignettes in the work sheds light on the customs of the era. Also, many readers will find something admirable in the candor of a man who veils nothing, is ashamed of nothing, and is no hypocrite. Although Casanova provided no great boon for humanity, he obviously was pleased with a life well-lived. Casanova, the man, is an enigma: He has no respect for authority or reputation, yet he wishes to be well liked; he laughs at religion and convention, yet he is pious and intellectually defensive; he personifies the quest for pleasure, yet he is known for his respect for women; and he is a sensualist who lives life to the fullest, yet he is generous to a fault. Thus, it can be concluded that this scholar, adventurer, gamester, vagabond, rogue, and womanizer can be considered one of the first heroes of popular culture—the popular culture of the Enlightenment.