Casanova, Giacomo Girolamo

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Casanova, Giacomo Girolamo (1725-1798): Italian Writer and Adventurer.

Also known as Jacques Casanova, chevalier de Seingalt, Casanova was an adventurer who authored a famous autobiography which greatly portrayed social life of Eighteenth Century Europe. His Histoire de ma vie (Story of my life) made his name like that of Don Juan, a synonym for seduction. Whereas the Spaniard was a fictitious character who considered himself first and foremost a women conqueror, Casanova, a person of flesh and bones, seduced but often fell in love with women.

His parents were actors, and young Casanova became seminarian, soldier, and violinist. In July 1755, his libertine lifestyle and his interests in magic caused the State Inquisitors of Venice to imprison him without trial. Fifteen months later, he accomplished an incredible escape that made him notorious throughout Europe. He, then traveled to Paris in search of fame and pleasure. Even though he arrived there penniless, thanks to his savoir-faire, he was instrumental in establishing the royal lottery.

A few years later, he began extensive travels in Europe, which put him in contact with all layers of society, from prostitutes to philosophers (among the most famous ones Haller, Albrecht von, Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet de ), and even the pope. In Poland, in 1766, he gained the limelight by defeating Count Braniski in a pistol duel. It is said that the Polish aristocrat could shoot a knife blade and split the bullet in two. Casanova recounted this glorious episode in Il Duello.

In 1774, he returned to Venice, where he worked as an informer for the State Inquisitors. In 1783, another scandal forced him to leave Venice for good. Poor and old, his dashing days behind him, in 1785, he accepted the job of librarian for the Count of Waldstein in remote Dux in Bohemia. In 1790, he started writing his Memoirs, which helped him forget his present misery and relive his glorious past. He died of natural death on June 4 1798.

Casanova was a very prolific and versatile author. In addition to his autobiography, his most famous works include his history essays Confutazione della Storia del Governo Veneto d'Amelot de la Houssaie (1769) and Istoria delle turbolenze della Polonia (1774), his satyrical pamphlet Né amori né donne ovvero la stalla ripulita (1782), his philosophical works Lana caprina. Epistola di un licantropo (1772), Soliloque d'un penseur (1786), his utopic novel Icosaméron (1788), and his mathematics essay Solution du problème déliaque (1790)

Written in French, Histoire de ma vie will be published first in German translation (1822-1828) and then in French after extensive revisions (1826-1838). The original version was not available to the public before 1960-1962.

Further Reading:

James Rives Childs, Casanova, a new perspective, 1988.

Guy Toubiana

The Citadel

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