Casanova, risk taker

I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent… My success and my misfortunes, the bright and the dark days I have gone through, everything has proved to me that in this world, either physical or moral, good comes out of evil just as well as evil comes out of good.
Casanova, foreword to his Memoirs

It’s the anniversary of the death of Casanova (Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt) born in Venice, April 2, 1725, died June 4, 1798 in Prague. His name is synonymous with the archetypal male lover/seducer, but who was he really?

He’s a fascinating complex figure, full of contradictions and immensely talented and restless. In addition to the amorous activities for which he’s best known, he was also a preacher, philosopher, occultist, diplomat, soldier, spy, writer, author, librarian, and jailbreaker. He wrote extensive Memoirs but admits that he may not be altogether truthful–however, the Memoirs give a brilliant picture of life in eighteenth-century Europe. He has all the prejudices of a man of his times yet he has a remarkably modern voice.

His adventurous, sexy life has been a favorite among film-makers, with a version starring the late Heath Ledger, and a BBC version with David Tennant (David who? Yes, that guy).

Fellini made a strange (which really goes without saying), stylized movie in 1976 starring a young and exotic Donald Sutherland, that perfectly captures Casanova’s sexual ambivalence and cool detachment.

And, yes, Casanova apparently did like to cross-dress now and again. (Well, honestly, what did you expect?) Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s first woman poet laureate, went a step further with her 2007 play in which Casanova is actually a woman. The Guardian reported: It is not sex but looks, food, music and language that are the agents of seduction. This Casanova gives everyone she meets their heart’s desire: Voltaire gets his ideas from her; Mozart gets music; and even a raging bull becomes as docile as a kitten when it looks into Casanova’s eyes. Hmm.

And talking of Mozart, yes, they did meet, along with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte when they were in Prague for the creation and premiere of Don Giovanni (1787). Casanova was an advisor for the libretto and part of the libretto exists in Casanova’s hand. Da Ponte, a former priest with a penchant for married women (I don’t think I’ve blogged yet about da Ponte, another fascinating character, but I will do so sometime soon) didn’t really need much advising in bedchamber matters. Another story: when da Ponte met Casanova another time, he was so embarrassed by his marriage and subsequent fall into respectability that he introduced his wife to the aging rake as his mistress. (The trouble is that although da Ponte and Casanova both wrote memoirs they are equally unreliable.)

Casanova was the only prisoner to escape from the Doge of Venice’s notorious prison, which was accessed by the Bridge of Sighs, a gorgeous entrance to a human roach motel (you went in but you didn’t come out). That was probably true.

Have you tackled the Memoirs?–the prison escape is riveting, and Casanova rivets over 120 women in loving, pervy detail. Not to everyone’s tastes… Which movie of Casanova is your favorite?

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Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

I have tackled the memoirs and found his story fascinating, funny and head-shakingly creative. He was definitely a man ahead of his time in many ways. Da Ponte was also quite a character.

I’ve seen both of the films you mentioned and enjoyed them both. I will admit that the costumes and settings were a large part of that enjoyment ! While both gave interesting portrayals of Casanova I would really love to see one based on his memoirs with a bit more depth as to the things that made him tick.

Jane Austen
13 years ago

I must admit to liking the David Tenant one the best, but I feel much of that was a)because of David Tenant and b)because Peter O’Toole played aged Casanova.

I have not read the memoirs and am not sure if I will. I am interested, but sometimes I tire of reading about men’s conquests.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

I haven’t read the Memoirs, but the volume dealing with the prison escape was serialized on “A Book at Bedtime” on BBC radio years and years ago during my formative years. I don’t know whether the program exists still, but it came on late at night on Radio 4, and consisted of an actor reading an excerpt from the book.

It was exciting and suspenseful and I think I’ll probably read that section of the Memoirs again.

I liked O’Toole in the Tennant version but I found Tennant himself rather annoying, particularly his whiney southeast urban accent (and I can say that because I have one myself, altho it’s not whiney).

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

I’ve only seen the Heath Ledger one in snippets, before my husband changes the cable station, but I’d love to see that Fellini- Donald Sutherland version!

I probably won’t tackle his memoirs, just because I have a bunch of reading I’d rather do before then, but you have me intrigued by the prison escape! And it would be interesting to see how he wrote about his conquests.

13 years ago

Never seen one, I’m afraid. But I’m always been fascinated by the stories about this Italian adventurous man. He must have been so smart to charm so many women. Not an easy achievement!

Jane George
13 years ago

***the Bridge of Sighs, a gorgeous entrance to a human roach motel***


Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

The recent Ian Kelly bio of Casanova (he also wrote the bio on Beau Brummel that came out a few years ago!) had a very detailed, and riveting, chapter on the prison escape! I haven’t tackled the actual memoirs, but enjoyed this book. 🙂 I also enjoyed the Tennant and Ledger movies (the Tennant one more–the chemistry between Ledger and Sienna Miller was pretty much nil, though the costumes were great!)

13 years ago

I haven’t tackled the memoirs or seen the films but they certainly sound interesting. One thing I have learned is that I share a birthday with Casonova.

Have Fun

Jane Austen
13 years ago

The lyrics of one of my favorite songs that mentions Casanova it’s by Grant Lee Phillips:

Dirty Secret

Casanova broke ya
Just like china
He was smooth as southern Blue Bell Cream
‘Cept he never meant to share that diamond ring

So you take up to the roof-top, pining
Aim to touch the moon a’ golden white
Lord, the air is damp, the stars are teary eyed

Here’s a little secret, love
Everybody comes undone
Here’s a dirty secret Darlin’

From the ballroom you can hear them laughing
Pretty maidens and your own Don Jaun
And ya tell yourself
They’ll miss you when you’re gone

Here’s a little secret, love
Everybody comes undone
Here’s a dirty secret Darlin’

Cross yourself, by Jesus
Now your head is all a blur
Questions don’t come easier
Answers, they get longer

Here’s a little secret, love
Everybody comes undone
Here’s a dirty secret Darlin’

Here’s a little secret, love
Everybody comes undone
Here’s a dirty secret Darlin’

Elena Greene
13 years ago

Yikes! More for my TBR list and Netflix queue…

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