"Giacomo Casanova was one of the most beguiling and controversial individuals of his or any age. Braggart or perfect lover? Conman or genius? He made and lost fortunes, founded state lotteries, wrote forty-two books, and 3600 pages of memoirs recording the tastes and smells of the years before the French Revolution - as well, of course, as his affairs and sexual encounters with dozens of women and a handful of men. His energy was dazzling." "Historian Ian Kelly draws on previously unpublished documents from the Venetian Inquisition, by Casanova, his friends and lovers, which give new insights into his life and world. His research spans eighteenth-century Venice, Paris, St Petersburg, Moscow, Rome, Prague and the Czech castle where Casanova lived, wrote and died. This is the story of a man, but also of the book he wrote about himself. His own memoirs have brought him two centuries of notoriety."--BOOK JACKET.
Known principally as a womanizer par excellence (Kelly estimates his ‘bedpost notches’ at between 122 and 136, mostly with women but including also a half dozen men), Casanova was not in the same league with his imaginary contemporary Don Giovanni (some 1800 conquests in the game of love and seduction). Born in Venice, the son of actors, Casanova grew up amidst the theater and at one time studied to become a priest. His travels took him to the capitals of Europe and to Constantinople. He met Benjamin Franklin in Paris, knew Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte (who may have considered Casanova as his inspiration for Don Giovanni), attacked in a pamphlet Voltaire just to be controversial. The Italian Commedia dell’Arte, Kelly surmises, may have been Casanova’s principel teacher in the art of seduction. Kelly reinforces this with his book’s organization into five ‘Acts’ with several ‘Scenes’ each and four ‘Intermezzi’ rather than sections with chapters.
This is a book rich in detail and anecdote, with supporting bibliography, notes on variant editions of Casanova’s Histoire, an index, and sixteen leaves of color plates. Ian Kelly’s other books include his Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the First Celebrity Chef and Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style.
Ian Kelly's tome provides a fuller picture of the real Casanova and gives us some remarkable insight into the truly amazing life of Casanova and his very real accomplishments.
Casanova was a extraordinarily complex and well traveled man, especially given the times and given the very real danger and hardship brought on by travel in the 18th century.
Casanova, born into a theatrical family, was also a diplomat, spy, intellectual, mathematician, and most surprisingly, a man of the cloth. One can only marvel at Casanova's sophistication and erudition on many of the great matters of his time.
For all his deserved reputation as a womanizer, Casanova seemed to truly love women and in many ways would be considered sophisticated, even today (and admittedly, Casanova had a few episodes that were beyond the pale then as well as now). His responsibility for the children he fathered far less so. However, the women he bedded were not merely conquests. He took an interest in their lives and maintained long-standing friendships with many, as well as being the source of many acts of kindness and generosity throughout his life.
In the end, Casanova understood how his life undermined and ultimately coarsened his soul (no doubt heightened by syphilis). That self awareness may have made his last years as a writer and librarian at Dux, the dreary castle in Bohemia, mostly tragic, but does not diminish the truly remarkable life that Casanova lived.
There are a few factual errors that I was able to catch. While the errors are inconsequential in the big canvas of Casanova’s life and character it throws a shadow of suspicion over the rigor of author’s research overall. The author mentions at least twice that Catherine II was Peter’s daughter-in-law while in fact she married his grandson. Also I am not sure whom to blame the author or Casanova about the fact that Catherine was interested in Venice because of the upcoming trip of her son on a Grand Tour, which is historically inaccurate since at that time her son was not even a teenager, and was not allowed out of the country until he produced an heir some 16 years after Casanova’s trip to Russia. Also Ian Kelly introduced Russian princess Dachova who did not exist, probably he meant princess Dashkova(In English edition “History of My Life” that is the name mentioned). Also there were minor typos throughout the book, “though” instead of “through”, “an” instead of “as” and countless others that made me stumble over otherwise smooth prose.
Overall, it seems that there is not a great deal of detailed historical knowledge on the part of the author, but his Casanova is a flesh and blood human, and his biography made for a great read.
As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that much of Casanova's life story was accurately portrayed by the recent BBC series starring David Tennant, who captured the spirit and optimism of the man well.
A Ventitian by birth, Giacomo Casanova came from a family of actors performing in one of the most decadent cities in Europe. He trained for the priesthood, received an excellent education, and displayed a formidable intellect. His sexual life began early and continued with abandon, and, although increasingly difficult in the eighteenth century, he maintained a career in the Church. His quick wit and self-confidence charmed the elite of Italy, France, England, Russia, and Spain, to name the more prominent places he lived. He slept his way across Europe and met rulers like Louis XV, Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, and several popes. His intellect made and lost him fortunes. Despite contracting gonorrhea and syphilis, Casanova lived to be seventy-three, spending his final years writing his memoirs.
Ian Kelly's life of Casanova is set up in five acts with several intermezzi, appropriate for describing so theatrical a life and suggesting the self-fashioned nature of Cassanova's life. There's quite a bit of bawdy humor, and even more sentiment, particularly in Kelly's presentation of Cassanova's his final years. This biography serves as not only one man's life, but also a history Enlightenment Europe.