Sunday, July 13, 2008

Casanova, Fact or Fiction?

A few days ago in a conversation with Amarinda Jones, she suggested I do some research on Casanova and then report what I find in a blog. I did a quick check and decided I would.

First the basics…

“It is only necessary to have courage, for strength without self-confidence is useless.”

He was born Giacomo Girolamo Casanova in Venice in 1725 to actor parents, one of six children who may or may not have actually been fathered by his mother’s husband. It’s generally believed that the theater owner was actually his sire, something he acknowledged in his later life when he was at odds with the Venetian powers-that-be.

He was sent off to boarding school at nine, supposedly for health reasons. His teacher, a priest, took him in and he ended up having his first recorded masturbation experience with the man’s sister at age eleven. At sixteen, while studying law at the University of Padua he lost his virginity to sisters. There he also discovered a love of gambling that plagued him throughout his life.

Following university, he entered the seminary for a brief time. That ended with much scandal, including asking for special dispensation from the Pope to be permitted to read “forbidden books”. His next career was the military but again, it was short-lived. Apparently sitting around Constantinople was too boring.

Back in Venice he made an attempt at professional gambling only to end up losing all his money after which he tried his hand at being a violinist for the same theater owner who was probably his father. Boredom sent him to pranking with his fellow musicians until his quasi-knowledge of medicine caused him to save a nobleman who became the first of many patrons Casanova would have during the course of his not working for real lifetime.

Capers and scandals earned him his first banishment from Venice so Casanova turned his attentions on the rest of Europe. He positioned himself to be noticed by the upper crust of society and managed to sponge his way from one region to the next, often being forced to move on by his own nefarious doings. On occasion he was jailed only to escape or be rescued by his current patron.

In France, Casanova made a fortune by becoming one of the trustees for the first state organized lottery. He became a spy and a diplomat as well. He used his wealth to acquire a silk mill but manufacturing was not his forte. His numerous liaisons cost him all he had and again he resorted to his charlatan ways to survive. Moving from one area to the next, he left a trail of schemes, mostly failed, and assignations which left him notorious and not in a good way. He added de Seingalt to his name to boost his respectability but his own reckless behavior worked against him throughout his years and resulted in his expulsion from wherever he landed time and time again. He was quite the con man since he generally managed to get readmitted all over the place as well.

Casanova lived out the end of his life as librarian to a much younger count who often couldn’t be bothered to introduce the old man to his important guests, something that left Casanova bitter. He took out his anger on the rest of the household staff which resented him for his better than the rest attitude. It was to stave off going mad or dying from grief that he undertook the writing of his memoirs.

“Happy or unhappy, life is the only treasure which man possesses.”

Now the seductions…

“Love is three quarters curiosity.”

What you must keep in mind is that Casanova lived in a time when the upper class married more for social standing than commitment. Attitudes about love and sex were more casual. In his memoirs he lists encounters with roughly 120 different women. He hints at more as well as some men but doesn’t include them because doing so would anger the wrong people.

The general consensus is that Casanova liked women who presented him with an intellectual as well as sexual challenge. He rejected those pursuing him merely for sex. His conquests were always mutually consented to and often followed a certain pattern. It seems he liked a touch of drama in his affairs. He’d discover a woman with a problem, say an abusive lover, save her from the brute which would result in a period of intense attraction during which she’d express her overwhelming gratitude physically. When things began to cool off Casanova would find her a replacement before skipping out.

In his memoirs he comments that in a time of seduction by alcohol and violence he much preferred to employ attentiveness and small favors to soften a woman’s heart. Yeah, I probably would have fallen for him too especially since he considered chocolate to be the ultimate aphrodisiac.

“Economy in pleasure is not to my taste.”

Final thoughts…

“In fact, to gull a fool seems to me an exploit worthy of a witty man.”

In my opinion, Casanova was an overly intelligent man who was easily bored and whose life has been highly romanticized. He amused himself by preying on more than willing, often wealthy victims and had a limited attention span for just about everything. Think of the Leo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can, only without a Tom Hanks in pursuit. Instead, he burned too many people and age set in. Without his 1400+ page memoirs which is regarded as a great descriptive source of his time, he probably would have been long forgotten.

Tour de France Update -
Winner Stage 9, July 13 – Ricco, Italy
Overall Leader – Kirchen, Luxemburg
Cadel Evans still 2nd by 6 seconds even though he crashed at the beginning of today’s stage


Kelly Kirch said...

Sounds like he was attention deficit with crazy mood swings. Wow. Very thorough and well done.

Amarinda Jones said...

What a fascinating man. I knew only about half of that - well done Barbara

Mona Risk said...

Thanks Barbara for such a detailed bio about Casanova. I saw the movie several times and enjoyed it a lot.

Sandra Cox said...

Thanks for sharing your research, Barbara. Excellent blog.

Anita Birt said...

Thanks for the information on Casanovs. He comes across as a deeply unhappy man who moves from place to place seeking happiness. He was a thoughtful lover but never stayed around very long. Why? He was like a bee flitting here and there, trying this and that, loving women as he passed by. Not an easy man to love. What a sad end to a life.

Ray said...


Very informative blog. Would he have gotten away with his schemes in an era when information travels the globe at the speed of light? It's a wonder someone didn't do him in even in his own era.


Bronwyn's Blog said...

Wow - you do amazing research! What a sad life he led.

Ashley Ladd said...

He was quite fascinating. However, I guess if we want to be remembered we have to write our own memoirs? Somehow, I don't think my memoirs would be exciting enough to stand the test of time.

Thanks for the interesting history lesson.

What I'm wondering is why Amarinda was giving you suggestions for the blog.

Regina Carlysle said...

WOW. I never knew this about Casanova. Sounds like he didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up. Bored very easily, didn't he?

barbara huffert said...

Thanks everyone.

Suggestions are always welcome but I only take them as the mood strikes.

Anny Cook said...

So I would venture a guess that calling some guy a Casanova is definitely not a compliment. Thing is... I know some guys like him. Sad.