(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 1777 words.)