Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1777
In his MEMOIRS (MEMOIRES ECRITS PAR LUI-MEME), Casanova, who took for himself the additional name of Seingalt, set forth his amazing life of adventures as he remembered them in his old age. Not everything in his reminiscences tallies with discoverable historical fact, either because the writer’s memory was faulty in his old age or because he colored the truth for the sake of a better story. In his autobiography Casanova reveals himself as a man ruled by pleasure, passion, and a delicate sense of revenge. He was superficial, amoral, proud, and sometimes extremely foolish. As he tells the story, he was also a brave man. He faced poverty, ill fortune, imprisonment, and even possible death with fortitude. The only situation before which he quailed was marriage, a state which would have put an end to his unconventional way of life. Although Italian was his mother tongue, he wrote his MEMOIRS in French. In the work there is perhaps less philosophizing than one might expect from an old man. Casanova seems generally to have thought his life a full and generous one, over which there was little need to ponder or grieve because of past follies or mistakes.
Casanova was the oldest child of Gaetan Joseph Jacques Casanova and his wife Zanetta, the beautiful daughter of a Venetian shoemaker. When a child, he was left with his maternal grandmother while his parents continued their careers on the stage. Rather strangely, Casanova could remember nothing of his life before he was eight years old. His earliest recollection was of a terrible nosebleed from which he suffered and for which his grandmother took him to see an old woman who performed a strange cure, apparently by witchcraft, for his malady.
At his father’s death Casanova, one of three children, was taken in hand by the Abbe Grimani, who placed the boy in a strict school. Though he hated his studies, he was precocious by nature and at the age of sixteen he became a Doctor of Law. Returned to Venice, he was befriended by M. de Malipiero, a retired senator. While visiting in Pasean, Casanova met a young girl named Lucy, whom he admired and respected. When he revisited the town again a few months later, he learned that the girl had eloped with another. Disappointed and resentful, he decided that he might as well make love to women instead of treating them with devotion and respect.
At seventeen Casanova entered a seminary, from which he was shortly expelled. Later he fell in with a Franciscan friar named Brother Stephano, with whom he had several adventures. On one occasion he was presented to Pope Benedict XIV, who treated him kindly. For a time Casanova stayed in the household of Cardinal Acquaviva, but an adventure with a girl put the police on his trail and he went to Constantinople, where he had several amorous adventures. On the way to Turkey he met Teresa, an actress who had disguised herself as a boy. The young woman left her family and went with Casanova to become his mistress for a time. Soon afterward Casanova assumed the dress of a military officer. In Constantinople a noble Turk, pleased with the young Venetian, offered him a fortune and his daughter’s hand in marriage if Casanova would only become a Moslem. On his return to Europe, Casanova stopped at Corfu, where he actually became an officer. Not entirely happy in military service, he left it before long and returned to Venice.
With his fortunes at a low ebb, Casanova took up the profession of a fiddler at the Theater of Saint Samuel. One day he had the opportunity to befriend M. de Bragadin, a Venetian senator, when the old man was suddenly taken ill. The senator, a wealthy man, took Casanova into his home and treated him as his son. He and two of his wealthy friends were soon convinced that Casanova had occult powers. Realizing their gullibility, Casanova hoaxed the old men into marrying off for him a young girl with whom he had had a very interesting affair.
Casanova then left Venice and traveled to Milan and Cesena. In the latter place he met a woman named Henriette, who abandoned her lover to accompany Casanova to Parma. She turned out to be a noblewoman who soon had to return to her family. During a period of reform which followed this adventure, Casanova became a Freemason and later went to Paris. After various adventures, including one in which he passed himself off as a doctor, he went to Dresden. There a tragi-comedy he had written had some success on the stage. On his return to Venice he met C. C., a beautiful heiress with whom he fell in love. He was overjoyed to find his love reciprocated. Her family did not approve of the match, however, partly because of the girl’s youth, and she was placed in a convent. One day when he visited the convent Casanova impressed one of the nuns, a very beautiful and worldly woman. The nun, M. M., arranged through her lover for an affair with Casanova. During many months of 1753 they met outside the convent and had a very happy time, until the woman’s lover, M. de Bernis, the French ambassador to Venice, returned to Paris. Soon afterward M. M. and C. C. learned that they loved the same man; much to Casanova’s anger and discomfiture, they changed places one night.
As his affair with M. M. was drawing to a close, Casanova was arrested by the state Inquisition, which confined him in the notorious prison known as The Leads because of his supposed heresy and his dabbling in black magic. After some months in the prison, Casanova found a bolt from which he made a combination tool and weapon. He was almost ready to escape when a change in cells brought his plan to light. He started all over again, with accomplices inside the prison, and eventually made a daring escape with a man named Balbi; the two escaped by making a daring passage over the roofs of the prison itself. Casanova succeeded in making his way from Venice to Munich, but his companion was captured and returned to The Leads.
From Germany, Casanova went to Paris, arriving there in January, 1757, shortly after Damiens had attempted to assassinate King Louis XV. While in Paris, Casanova raised several million francs for the crown by means of a lottery and thus came into favor in court circles. He met Madame la Marquise d’Urfe, a wealthy and elderly noblewoman fascinated by the occult arts. Becoming the old woman’s companion in experiments in magic and alchemy, he was able to fleece her of a great deal of money.
On a trip to Amsterdam, Casanova again met Therese Trenti, whom he had known some years before as Therese Imer. Now an actress, she was the mother of Casanova’s daughter and of a son by another father. Casanova took the boy back to Paris and put him in the care of Madame d’Urfe. In Paris he also helped out Mlle, X. V. C., who had become pregnant and feared her family’s wrath. For his pains he fell afoul of the police, although he himself was innocent of any wrongdoing.
After he had cleared himself he traveled to Holland and then to Germany, having many adventures in love on the way and making some money, most of it by gambling. In Cologne he had an amusing affair with the wife of the burgomaster. From there he went to Wurtemburg, where he was cheated and robbed by three army officers who then betrayed their victim to the police and charged him with unlawful gambling. With the help of two pretty women Casanova made his escape and went to Zurich, Switzerland. At Zurich he had several pleasant affairs, including one with a pretty French widow named Dubois, who served as his housekeeper. In the summer of 1760 Casanova went to Geneva to visit Voltaire, whom he found a charming man but too much addicted to republicanism for Casanova’s taste.
From his visit to Voltaire, Casanova went to Aix-en-Savoie, where he had an interesting experience with a nun who much resembled his M. M. Having become pregnant, the nun had arranged to leave her convent with a supposed illness that could be treated by the waters at Aix. He helped her through her confinement and then returned her to her order.
Casanova went on to Rome, where he was received by the Pope, who promised to help him obtain a pardon from the Venetian authorities. Nothing came of the promise, but the pontiff did bestow the Cross of the Order of the Golden Spur on Casanova.
Leaving Rome, Casanova visited Bologna, Modena, Parma, Turin, and Chambery. At Chambery he arranged for a banquet with the second M. M., whom he had sent back to her convent. Finally back in Paris, Casanova found Madame d’Urfe hopeful of being reborn as a male child through certain occult rites. Casanova, seeing the woman was set in her ideas, promised to help her. Much of his time for almost two years was spent in occult pursuits which enabled the adventurer to make himself a small fortune at the noblewoman’s expense.
In Milan the adventurer tried to have an affair with a Spanish countess who retaliated by trying to take his life with magic. Casanova had greater success with the Countess Clementina at the chateau of San Angelo, where he was the guest of Count Ambrose. He won the countess’ love and then, as usual, proceeded to leave her. He always had adventures and affairs, but his next great exploits took place in England. He went to London, where he found Therese Trenti, who now called herself Madame Cornelys, and her children an unhappy domestic combination. To relieve his boredom and gloom he advertised for a woman to rent an apartment in his house. Pauline, a Portuguese noblewoman who had taken refuge in England, answered the advertisement. Casanova and Pauline had an affair which lasted until she was compelled to return to her homeland. After Pauline’s departure, Casanova met Miss Charpillon, an adventuress who proved more than a match for him, even driving him to contemplate suicide. After this disaster, Casanova often lived a seedy and wretched existence as he drifted about Europe from Russia to Spain. At the time of writing his MEMOIRS, in 1773, he was still waiting to receive from the Venetian authorities the pardon which would allow him to return to the city and republic he loved.
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