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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

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During his long career Casanova was a military officer, priest, lawyer, mining consultant, poet, author, playwright, theatrical director and producer, lottery organizer, spy, gambler, banker, mathematician, freemason, cabalist, con man, police agent, magician, abortionist, cook, violinist, philosopher, dancer, silk manufacturer, and nunnery administrator. He is known to have met and conversed with many of the great literary and political figures of his time. He also was a name-dropper, storyteller, and opportunistic scoundrel. Casanova’s claim to have had sexual intercourse with several hundred women is probably as good an estimate as is available, and he is known to have had at least eleven episodes of venereal disease.

Although Casanova published at least twenty books, his reputation rests almost entirely on his memoirs. His original twelve-volume manuscript, Histoire de ma Vie, jusq’à l’an 1797, was sold to the Leipzig publisher, F. A. Brockhaus, for two hundred thalers (about eighteen dollars) in 1820. Brockhaus then published a German translation between 1822 and 1828. In order to counter pirated French translations, Brockhaus commissioned Jean Laforgue to edit the original manuscript. The fact that Laforgue’s edited version, Memoires de Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, écrits par lui meme (1826-1838), was published in segments, in Leipzig, Paris, and Brussels may reflect objections from the authorities. Brockhaus then sequestered the manuscript, as controversy and unscrupulously altered pirated versions of the published text proliferated. As a consequence, some modern scholars theorized that the book was a hoax and that Casanova himself never existed. Publication of the complete French text in 1960, with footnotes and comments followed by a definitive English translation, revealed the deficiencies in Laforgue’s work. Laforgue altered Casanova’s literary style, deleted passages that he considered obscene or otherwise objectionable, put words in Casanova’s mouth, and inserted his own political and religious opinions.

Casanova’s memoirs and, to a lesser extent, his other works have been censored for their anticlericalism, republicanism, and, most notably, for immorality. His memoirs were listed in the Roman Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum of Pope Gregory XIV in 1834, remaining for all subsequent revisions and editions. The French government of Louis Napoleon banned his memoirs in 1863, the government of the Republic of Ireland banned them in 1934, and Benito Mussolini’s Italian government banned them in 1935. The memoirs did not become generally available in the United States until after 1929 and have since frequently been targeted by local censors. For example, the Detroit police department seized the book in 1934.