Early Life

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

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.

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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 church would alter his less than reputable passions. At age fifteen, Casanova had received three minor orders from the church, been introduced into society by his patron, and acquired the social graces that would serve him well throughout the remainder of his life. He excelled in his studies and was allowed to preach two sermons, but during the second sermon, it became obvious that he was not sober, and he was dismissed from the program. Thanks to the intercession of his patron, he was transferred to a seminary but shortly was expelled for a sexual tryst.

Because he obviously was not cut from clerical cloth, Casanova’s next foray into the professional world was the Venetian army, which he entered as an ensign. This, too, proved to be a less than ideal choice; he resigned the post in 1745. Seeking a less structured position, he began to play the fiddle in a theater orchestra. During an evening performance, one of the theater patrons became ill, and Casanova, claiming to be schooled in the medicinal arts, saved the man’s life. The gentleman was Senator Bragadin, a wealthy and influential politician, who showed his gratitude by moving Casanova into his home and his social circle and becoming his patron. After many false starts, Casanova had found his niche in the world and realized his true calling, which was to be supported and valued merely by virtue of being himself.

Life’s Work

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 685

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...

(The entire section contains 1468 words.)

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