Biography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

Giovanni Jacopo (or Giacomo) Casanova de Seingalt, known simply as Casanova (kah-sah-NAW-vah), has not suffered an injustice because the world makes his name synonymous with “libertine”; in fact, it is largely because of his own efforts that he has acquired this reputation. His Mémoires present him as the flamboyant “natural man,” bound by no laws but the law of his own nature. Although this autobiography is somewhat colored, even the most cursory survey of his career shows him to be the amoral adventurer par excellence.

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Born in Venice on April 2, 1725, in his youth he was expelled from a Venetian seminary for immoral conduct, but his mother saved him from jail by securing for him the protection of the influential Cardinal Claudio Acquaviva. Casanova soon began his adventures: He traveled about Europe and the Near East for years, living variously as preacher, businessman, alchemist, musician, diplomat, and journalist. Imprisoned in Venice in 1755 for spying, he made a marvelous escape, which he reports in his Mémoires, in a section translated by Arthur Machen as Casanova’s Escape from the Leads (1925). He went to Paris, where he was made head of the national lotteries. He gained a reputation as a financial wizard and moved in the best society.

Never the man to stay contented in a secure position, he resumed his travels in 1759. He visited the Netherlands, Germany, Savoy, Switzerland (where he met Voltaire), and Florence (from which he was expelled). In Rome, he received the Order of the Golden Spur from the pope. After a short time in Paris, he toured Russia, where he was involved in a scandal and a duel. Fearing arrest in Paris again, he fled to Spain, where he stayed until he was expelled from Madrid in 1769. By 1774, he was again employed as a spy, this time for the Venetian state police, but in 1782 he was exiled for libeling one of his patrons.

With few places in Europe where he could safely go, Casanova decided to retire from public life and write down his adventures. With Count Waldstein as his patron, he took a post as librarian at the château of Dux in Bohemia. In 1788, he published Icosameron, a strange novel-fantasy which anticipates many modern inventions. In the quiet of the library he also relived his past adventures, fictionalizing them for greater effect, and wrote them in French. These Mémoires create an absorbing portrait of a shallow, amoral man whose vitality makes his story rival Benvenuto Cellini’s Autobiography (wr. 1558-1562; pb. 1728). Casanova’s Mémoires have been translated into every European language.

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